The discreet charm of activeness: the vain construction of efficient smart grid users

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Activeness is a key concept in smart grid visions, but little is known of what
this activeness entails. By combing the literature on marketisation/
performativity with critical consumption studies, we outline our findings
from a case study of a smart grid project in Sweden. Using a mixed
method methodology, we critically approach various tensions, doubts
and frictions that occur in the process of constructing ‘activeness.’ For
decades, the design of the Swedish energy system has been guided by
assumptions that users base their actions on what is profitable and thus
behave as calculative agents, and we found this assumption also acted
as a guiding principle in this project. However, we encountered project
employees who continuously pondered the appropriateness of
configuring the smart grid around an economic cornerstone, and they
hesitated when trying to explain how their configuration was aligned
with the notion of activeness. By describing their scripted users as
‘passively active’ and ‘actively active,’ they seemed to cling to the notion
of activeness while simultaneously stretching the actual meaning of this
word. We conclude that these ambiguities in the configuration of the
smart grid do not contribute to any sense of collective rule or
environmentally friendly solutions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cultural Economy
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Anna Wallsten is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute. She has a M.Sc. in Sociotechnical Systems Engineering and a B.A. in Business Studies from Uppsala University. Anna is concerned with question regarding how imaginaries of the future energy system are put into practice and translated into functional configurations. Primarily, she has followed the logics and mechanisms that govern such processes, the power imbalances or injustices they sustain and the roles assigned to users. The focus of her dissertation “Assembling the Smart Grid” was an in-depth study of a smart grid demonstration project. She followed the tensions, frictions and doubts that appeared as a smart grid unfolded on an island in the Baltic sea. In her current project she is engaged with socioeconomically vulnerable user groups that do not conform to experts’ vision of a future home with smart energy solutions.

Vasilis Galis is associate professor in the Technologies in Practice (TIP) group at the IT University of Copenhagen. His research focuses on the relations between ICT, democracy and vulnerable social groups. Galis has published on social movements, migration and sociotechnical systems from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective.


    Research areas

  • Activeness, consumption, smart grid, users, economisation


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