This new journal article emphasises the role of social relations in shaping energy demand, advocating a relational approach to understand decision-making and offer insights for policy-makers. This method centers on human interactions, infrastructure, and built environments.


In a recent review of research on the role of social relations in shaping energy demand, authors documented increasing interest in relational approaches to energy. Relational approaches to energy conceive of human behaviour as produced and reproduced by social relations and interactions, placing relationships at the centre of inquiry, as well as understanding these relationships in the context of infrastructure and the built environment. In this paper, we build on a relational approach in new economic sociology, and on our research project about the social relations of energy retrofit, to offer a methodological and conceptual guide to those working on energy demand topics. We detail the ontological and epistemological starting points of our relational approach, and articulate how research can be designed to capture the role of social relations in shaping decision-making on energy, as well as to offer innovative insights for policy-makers and practitioners. We use our experience in a research project on energy retrofit as a case study, reflecting on the practical aspects of this research approach to provide suggestions for research design for those interested in doing similar work. This includes defining key concepts and the way they interact in a conceptual framework for a relational approach to energy. We also offer some conceptually driven research questions as a starting point for energy research projects. We finish by discussing the potential for further application of these ideas in research, policy and practice.


Lucie Middlemiss, Mark Davis, Donal Brown, Ruth Bookbinder, Iain Cairns, Giulia M. Mininni, Marie Claire Brisbois, Matthew Hannon, Anne Owen and Stephen Hall

Publication details:

L Middlemiss, M Davis, D Brown, R Bookbinder, I Cairns, G Mininni, M Brisbois, M Hannon, A Owen and S Hall. 2024. Developing a relational approach to energy demand: A methodological and conceptual guide. Energy Research & Social Science.