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Social representations of electricity network technologies: Exploring processes of anchoring and objectification through the use of visual research methods

Authors

  • Hannah Devine-Wright,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Environment and Development, Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
      Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Hannah Devine-Wright, School of Environment and Development, Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK (e-mail: hdwright@manchester.ac.uk).
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  • Patrick Devine-Wright

    1. School of Environment and Development, Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
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Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Hannah Devine-Wright, School of Environment and Development, Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK (e-mail: hdwright@manchester.ac.uk).

Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore everyday thinking about the UK electricity network, in light of government policy to increase the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. Existing literature on public perceptions of electricity network technologies was broadened by adopting a more socially embedded conception of the construction of knowledge using the theory of social representations (SRT) to explore symbolic associations with network technologies. Drawing and association tasks were administered within nine discussion groups held in two places: a Scottish town where significant upgrades to the local transmission network were planned and an English city with no such plans. Our results illustrate the ways in which network technologies, such as high voltage (HV) pylons, are objectified in talk and drawings. These invoked positive as well as negative symbolic and affective associations, both at the level of specific pylons, and the ‘National Grid’ as a whole and are anchored in understanding of other networks such as mobile telecommunications. We conclude that visual methods are especially useful for exploring beliefs about technologies that are widespread, proximal to our everyday experience but nevertheless unfamiliar topics of everyday conversation.

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