Strengers & Maller 'Getting Comfortable', TASA 2013

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


A growing body of literature suggests that ways of keeping cool and warm at home are spreading and standardising around the world, despite significant climate variations. However, recent in-depth studies with households from diverse cultures and climates find significant local variation and difference in how householders keep warm and cool. Interestingly, these climatic variations do not always follow a simple narrative of hotter or cooler climates resulting in greater use of space conditioning in homes. However, the role that climate and the experience of weather play in these variations has not been investigated in any significant detail. This paper draws on interview data from a transient population of international students to explore the role that local weather events and experiences play in students’ heating and cooling practices whilst living in Melbourne, Australia. Our analysis draws on theories of social practice and concepts of agentic capacity and distributed agency from sociology and Science and Technology Studies. We are interested in the role of ‘materials’ in practices of heating and cooling. This includes everyday objects such as air-conditioners, heaters, clothing, fans, cool drinks, showers, and the built environment. Additionally we are interested in foregrounding the materialities produced by local and everyday weather experiences, such as temperature, humidity, wind, rain and sunshine. We explore the agentic capacities of these weather events in everyday practice, where agency is distributed between bodies (which can feel hot or cold and sweat or shiver to cool down and warm up), other materials, skills about how to use get cool or warm, and meanings about what is appropriate to do. We conclude that the materialities of weather play an important role in local variations of heating and cooling practices that warrants further exploration in discussions about the globalisation of heating and cooling practices.

Text of Strengers & Maller 'Getting Comfortable', TASA 2013

  • 1. Getting comfortable: the materiality of weather in household heating and cooling practices Yolande Strengers and Cecily Maller Centre for Urban Research, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne AUSTRALIA The Sociological Association of Australia (TASA) Conference 25-28 November, Monash University

2. Global trends in thermal comfort Globally indoor temperatures are homogenising (Winter 2013, Hitchings and Lee 2008, Hitchings 2011) Australia: air-con ownership almost doubled since late 1990s to almost 75% (ABS 2011). Global trend towards 220C (Hitchings 2011) Common comfort assumptions dominate Mechanical heating and cooling necessary and unstoppable Everyone will use them the same Change is linear and homogenous Adaptive comfort research challenges this view (de Dear & Brager 2002) Humans experience climate differently Different cultures and communities adapt to climatic conditions and indoor environments in different ways People have reported being comfortable from 6 to 30+0 Celcius (Chappells & Shove 2004) RMIT University2013Centre for Urban Research2 3. Experiencing climate through weather Limited work on role of climate in adaptive comfort Climate is recorded, weather experienced (Ingold and Kurttila 2000: 187) Climate and long-term climate change takes expression through specific local weather patterns (de Vet 2013: 1) Weather experienced and materialised as temperature, rainfall, snow, sunshine, humidity and wind.Image source: s/wallpaper-28618.htmRMIT University2013Centre for Urban Research3 4. Studying weather as a material element of practice A practice is a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other (Reckwitz 2002a: 249). Artefacts and things necessarily participate in social practices just as human beings do (Reckwitz 2002b: 208). Rantala et al.s (2011) study of wilderness guiding practices proposes that weather has agency which is exerted through practice. Weather is both manipulated in social and material practices and itself redirects human practices by narrowing down or extending the potentialities for outdoor activities (287) Weather is a material entity in itself and the interaction with weather involves a wide range of material objects (296)Image source: University2013Centre for Urban Research4 5. The distributed agency of weather in practice Agentic capacities of different human and non-human actants (including weather) (Bennett 2005, Coole 2013). a distributive, composite notion of agency; an agency that includes the nonhumans with which we join forces or vie for control (Bennett 2005: 448). Recognises that effective agency is always an assemblage its emergence constituted by the interplay of human and no human materialities (Bennett 2005: 454). How are the agentic capacities of weather distributed within assemblages of heating and cooling practices, where they join forces or vie for control with other elements of practice?Source: University2013Centre for Urban Research5 6. Studying mobile practices and weather Draws on data from a study into the thermal comfort practices of a highly mobile population: International students in Melbourne, Australia 15 semi-structured scrapbook interviews with international students studying in Melbourne, Australia. Home countries: Europe, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Philippines, China, Vietnam Aim of broader study: To understand dynamics involved in the globalisation of domestic energy and water-intensive practices. Key question for this paper: What material role does weather play in the adaptation of local heating and cooling practices? RMIT University2013 University2013Centre for Urban Research6 7. Variable and unpredictable weather: material disruptions Melbournes weather experienced as highly variable: Interviewer: Do you think that Australia is a hot or a cold country? Libby (China): Its hard to say, because in Melbourne the weather change every minute [Laughter]. Some students disliked Melbournes ups and downs and missed constant and predictable weather. Carlo (Switzerland): I really dont like here the really hot days, like the 40 degree days, so they just kill me. I cant move. [Laughter] But I dont really miss the weather in Switzerland, except I like the fact that in Switzerland its constant. I like the defined season. I dont really like the up and downs. Weather exerted agentic capacity by disrupting practices and routines in a very material sense. At times weather could incapacitate practice (e.g. I cant move). RMIT University2013Source: for Urban Research7 8. Experiencing normal weather Understandings of Australias climate as hot or cold was relative to students current and past experiences with temperature from their home countries. Students from tropical climates thought Australia was a cold country. Interviewer: Do you think Australia is a hot or cold country? Venus (Philippines): Cold. Definitely cold for me. Students from colder climates thought Australia was a hot country. Karl (Germany): Germany has this really four different seasons from really, really cold to hot. Yeah, and I think Australia is just always hot and even if we think its cold its just about 10 degrees or something. Body as a sensorial filter the perception of weather is multisensory. One perceives, in effect, with the whole body (Ingold and Kurtilla 2000: 189). Weather memories as a form of agentic capacity? RMIT University2013Centre for Urban Research8 9. Weather memory as agentic capacity Nikolopoulou and Steemers (2003: 97) suggest that memory of weather experience directly affects peoples expectations. Expectations of climate, and their implicit categories of normal or abnormal weather, are strongly influenced by individual and collective experiences and memories (Hulme et al. 2009: 198). In past work we also argue that memories of past practices can inform current and future practices (Maller & Strengers 2013). Memories of normal weather conditions provide immaterial agentic capacity about what is and isnt comfortable which are interpreted through the body.Source: University2013Centre for Urban Research9 10. Adapting to the weather Students adapted to local conditions: the agentic capacities of weather changed as their bodies got used to local conditions. Indira (Canada): Twelve degrees is freezing now, when usually -30 is freezing. .. Yes, well my tolerance levels changed. Tim (UK): Just because its warmer. So I think my comfortable temperature has probably got warmer. Whereas at home I can deal with being cold. The feel or material qualities of weather changed over time (deciphered through the body) Karl (Germany): Im feeling more cold and faster cold than in Germany. Its a different cold. In Germany it feels really warm when its 14 degrees. Yeah, when I came from Germany from Australia we have minus 12 degrees. And I have worn the same stuff and now Im in Australia and Im cold with that. So its weird. because its not really cold here but I feel faster cold. So normally I wouldnt wear a scarf in this temperature in Germany.RMIT University2013Centre for Urban Research10 11. Adapting to the weather: similar practices Students who adapted to the weather performed similar practices to their home countries, despite significant climatic variations. Venus (Philippines):So we rarely wear thick clothes [now]. We brought thin ones [to Australia]. And then when we arrived at the airport its like 17 degrees. Is this summer?! So I think I wont like the weather but as soon as we stay here for longer Angela: We adapted. Venus: we end up liking the weather as well.Image source: University2013Centre for Urban Research11 12. Uncomfortable weather: past practices Some students did not get used to the weather over time Students drew on their experiences and memories of past practices to inform their heat and cool comfort practices in Australia. Kim (South Korea): Yeah [I feel the cold more in Australia], because I was so surprised that like, at my country we really dont, because its really warm we, like sometimes we just wear shorts, but in here theres no heating system, like thats so my hands is like freezing, so I have to use this kind of thing. Interviewer: You use the hot water bottle? Kim: Yeah, its quite like, not usual sort of thing. Absence of normal materials of practice, combined with uncomfortable weather, prompted return to more traditional and lowtech practices. RMIT University2013Centre for Urban Research12 13. Uncomfortable weather: new practices Some students participated in new heating and cooling practices to get comfortable Tran (Vietnam): Oh, yeah. Its a lot of differences [between Australia and Vietnam]. And when I come here, is the very beginning of February, so I kind of enjoyed the mild, cool weather back then. But now it turn out to be for me too cool. And sometimes, its so crazy, because when you are cool you need to turn on the heater, but when you use too much heater you are going to dry out your skin. So I definitely hate it [the climate]. but I think maybe I use Im going to use it whenever Im home during the winter, because I cannot stand the col Materialities of cold weather intersect with dry air from the heater as experienced by the body. Agentic capacities distributed between bodies and technologies in practices of staying