Call for papers

1st International Colloquium on the Sociology of Energy
Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail, France, October 25–26, 2012

Over the last decade or so, a great deal of sociological research has been undertaken in the field of energy. However, thus far, due to the lack of an organised scientific community, this research has remained dispersed. In light of the current climate and energy situation and the ensuing debates, it would appear to be an appropriate time to collate and compare the various contributions and analyses in the sector at an international level.
The aim is to convene scientists from different backgrounds (public and private companies, research laboratories, engineering/consulting firms), develop an international network with a view to holding regular meetings, as well as pool knowledge and theoretical and methodological approaches.
This first international colloquium on the sociology of energy will include plenary lectures and thematic workshops. It is also planned to call upon 'key witnesses' from outside the world of sociology.

A pressing matter: the energy transition

Energy issues are becoming an increasingly focal part of social and political concerns. Energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and other related environmental and health impacts are relevant to all human activities. Factors of various natures – physical (increasing scarcity of conventional resources, worsening of greenhouse effect, etc.), technical (structuring effect of the market, technical macro-systems and technical innovations) and political (international conferences, Environment Round Table, industrial policies, etc.) –, combined with their socio-economic consequences (technological drift, fuel poverty, social exclusion, lack of technical democracy, etc.), mean that action must be taken urgently to ensure a more diverse energy mix and secure energy savings.
Energy demand-side management (DSM) has become an essential component of sustainable development reference frameworks and a key public action priority in the areas of transport, town planning, the environment and industry. Most countries have such public action programmes, which draw on major international agreements, with a national dimension based on the specific energy, economic and social situation in the country. The energy transition that our societies are starting to embark upon is being hampered by the inability of technical systems and public policies to reduce consumption. Attention has thus turned towards consumers and their behaviour.
In addition to analyses of public policies and industrial strategies, energy-related challenges require a sociotechnical approach that considers and addresses the issue of the interaction between technical and social factors. This entails deciphering the thinking, the practices, the social perceptions and logic of action that underpin the design, production, marketing and use of energy intensive technologies. Conversely, how do we examine the role of social (i.e. non-technological) innovations ? If society is to ensure swifter dissemination of technologies, organisational modes and social practices that contribute to increased energy efficiency, the conditions required to roll out high energy-saving appliances need to be defined, the expectations of the different categories of stakeholders promoting and using them need to be identified and the way in they perceive and take ownership of them must be analysed.

The objective of the 1st Colloquium on the Sociology of Energy is to better understand the role and contribution of the sociology of energy in the public arena by examining five main themes.

1) Challenges in the field of the sociology of energy

Why study the sociology of energy ? How do we define the sociology of energy ? What are the main institutional, political, industrial, technical, environmental, social and cultural challenges ? How can the science of engineering and social sciences coexist within the field of energy ? How are the interfaces between sociology and technology addressed, by industrialists when developing innovative technologies, and by sociologists in the way in which they approach the technology of energy systems ? What is the role of social factors in technologies, such as smart grids and meters, new automation systems, energy saving buildings, household appliances and ICTs, etc.? To what extent do sociological considerations influence industrial, technical and political orientations ? What is the role of social innovation in the energy transition (co-housing, ‘transition town’ communities, the de-growth movement, etc.) ?

2) The purpose of the sociology of energy

Socio-economic sciences refer to a new energy paradigm and the forthcoming transition from a consumer society to a frugal, resource-efficient society. The reconfiguration of the role of the individual is central to this, with a heightened focus on the notion of the 'responsible consumer', the 'new citizen' and their multi-faceted identities: user, lay expert, prescriber and even a producer of their own energy. How do we examine these new forms of consumption and the reconfiguration of individual responsibilities ? What are the main results of the studies on this supposed new energy consumer? Is a transformation of the perceptions, values and habits of individuals or families in terms of controlling energy consumption really underway and, if so, what shape is it taking ?
Increasing numbers of sociological studies are being carried out into consumer phenomena and the categories of stakeholders in the energy sector. Aspects relating to media coverage, policy agenda setting and public perception in this field have been studied less, despite the fact that they play a key role in gauging the understanding of the changes underway, such as the ways in which industrial policies and international agreements are being constructed.
How are controversial energy issues addressed in the public sphere ? How can sociology help to alleviate the lack of change in energy consumption behaviour ? How does it examine DSM communication difficulties ? How does it examine the relevance of information tools (public awareness campaigns, green marketing, energy labels) ? What analysis is it making of tools, such as 'green nudges', which are presented as innovations? How can it contribute to assessing the effects of energy saving policies ?

3) Approaches within the field of the sociology of energy: models and theoretical frameworks used

Social anthropology of techniques and the sociology of innovation are used to examine the history of energy choices. Political sociology also plays a role when examining the emergence in the public arena of socioeconomic problems stemming from the way in which our societies manage energy-related issues (risk management, management of the energy transition, alleviation of fuel poverty, etc.). The sociology of social movements, the sociology of controversy, the sociology of the family and leisure activities and strategic analysis are also used in energy studies. We can therefore examine the conditions needed to implement and ensure the validity of these theoretical frameworks in the field of energy-related issues and, conversely, examine how this field can enhance the theoretical models.

4) The sociology of energy and its methods

Are there any methodological approaches specific to the sociology of energy, in particular when attempting to understand the interactions between techniques and human beings or undertaking socio-technical experiments? Does collaborative work with the engineering sector and the need, in some studies, to combine technical and sociological approaches pave the way for new methodological perspectives ? What can sociology learn from technical approaches ? How does sociology, with the help of other humanities and social sciences (such as history, social psychology, as well as geography), contribute to a better understanding of the energy transition ? We welcome any presentations of specific cases of studies, research, experiments or actions on the issue of the sociology of energy, as well as any examinations of innovative methodological protocols that will add to the range of investigative tools used in this field.

5) Stakeholders, professions and skills

Which stakeholders contribute to developing sociological knowledge in the field of energy ? From what angle do these stakeholders look at the issue (from a scientific, market-oriented, political or technical viewpoint, etc.) ? How do groups of experts, members of civil society and local and regional authorities interact with each other ? Can we see the emergence of a new mapping of tools and stakeholders (institutional tools, such as Agenda 21, Climate Plans, etc., regulations, technical or diagnostic tools, such as energy audits, energy demand-side management programmes, etc.) ? How are these tools developed ? How do the users take ownership of them? How are they implemented and how are they evaluated ?
Within organisations, how are new skills and energy-specific occupations developed (fitters of renewable energy equipment, energy diagnosticians, sustainable development officers, green marketing specialists, lobbyists, etc.) ? What is the status of these new professions within the institutional sphere, companies and public bodies? Which tasks are they allocated, how much flexibility are they given and how legitimate are they ?
At another level, how are consumers and users being involved in the energy transition project ? What role are they being given within a project that is fundamentally based on the premise that any solution will be of a technical nature ? How do they perceive and take ownership of this range of equipment (high energy performance domestic appliances, innovative materials, energy passive or positive houses, etc.) ? Do we not see them developing specific ways of adjusting and acquiring new practical knowledge? What role does social innovation play for users ?


Proposals for papers shall be presented on a single page (3000 characters), set out as follows :

Title in French
Contributors (surname, first name, institution they work for, email addresses)
Summary of the proposal in French
5 key words in French

Title in English
Summary in English
5 key words in English

Font: Times New Roman. Character size: 12.
The surname of the first-named contributor should be used for the name of the document.

Proposals must be sent by May 15, 2012 to both of the following addresses and in the same email: and

The authors will be informed of the opinion of the scientific committee around May 31, 2012 English and French can be used for all correspondence.

The proposals will be examined by a scientific committee comprising the following members : Christophe Beslay (Univ Toulouse II), Dominique Desjeux (Paris IV), Charles Gadéa (Univ Saint-Quentin en Yvelines), Alain Gras (Paris IV), Salvador Juan (Univ Caen), Véronique Beillan/Isabelle Moussaoui (EDF R&D), Chantal Derkenne (ADEME), François Ménard (PUCA), Chris Pickvance (Univ Kent), Hal Wilhite (Univ Oslo), Marie-Christine Zélem (CERTOP-CNRS)

Organising committee : Christelle Abraham (CERTOP), Christophe Beslay (Univ Toulouse II), Annie Couillens (CERTOP), Joël Courant (CERTOP), Chantal Derkenne/Sylvie Geissmann (ADEME), Nicolas Gayet/Sylvie Déjoux (ARPE), Marie Carlo (GDF-SUEZ), François Ménard (PUCA), Michèle Perraux (CERTOP), Anne Razous (CERTOP), Bénédicte Riey (OREMIP), Marie-Christine Zélem (CERTOP).

The contributors selected shall send their full paper by September 15, 2012, in French or in English, using a format that will be communicated to them subsequently.
A set of summaries will be distributed to all contributors when they enrol.
At the end of the colloquium, the most relevant contributions will be published.

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