Book review: Infrastructures of Consumption

March 28, 2008

van Vliet, B., Chappells, H. & Shove, E. (2005). Infrastructures of Consumption. Environmental Innovation in the Utility Industries. London: Earthscan. (see details)

Environmental policy has started to focus more and more on consumption. One aspect of this shift is the renewed focus on demand-side management in policies concerning utilities such as energy, water and waste. Policy makers often assume that more sustainable patterns of consumption hinge on the decisions and actions of individual households. Infrastructures of consumption questions the relevance of individualistic theories of consumption and the policy approaches they support.

The authors argue that the environmental ‘choices’ of consumers are influenced by shared social and collective networks. They also note that the classical notion of ‘consumer decision making’ does not work for the consumption of energy and water, which are used in the process of accomplishing normal social practices. Thus, we should focus on “systems of provision”, rather than isolated demand or supply decisions. The book analyses new developments in DSM, from conventional large-scale ‘mainstream’ utilities to small-scale ‘utility-independent’ provision schemes.  They argue for a framework that highlights various “systems of co-provision” that constitute a “patchwork of available options”. Within this framework, according to the authors, there is more flexibility and change in the management of infrastructures than has previously been understood. Thus, there are new opportunities for DSM.

The book draws on the ideas and results of a EU research project called Domus (Domestic Consumption and Utility Services, ENV4-CT97-0467). (see final report of the project)