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Smart meters and the fuel poor: assessing perceived personal advantage at the convergence of culture, structure and agency

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  • Full or part time
    Dr T Woodall
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Smart meters are at the vanguard of a new breed of intrusive domestic technologies that will, ultimately, need to be promoted, accepted, and normalised into daily lives. Despite this the marketing literature is largely bereft of associated study, with the sustainability, information systems and consumer culture literatures dominating debate. One of the few studies to address this discrepancy - a pilot commissioned by the Chesshire Lehmann Fund (Lewis and Rosborough, 2013) - found that those most likely to benefit from the installation of smart meters were, perhaps, the least likely to welcome these into their homes. According to the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DoECC, 2013), “Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their energy bills and offset price increases”, yet these arguments are neither clear nor convincing to all. The report suggested - despite recent awareness campaigns - that through indifference, mistrust and lack of knowledge, both the elderly and the poor remained resistant to this apparently invaluable energy solution. Research (Wright, 2004), funded by both British Gas and Help the Aged, suggested that causes of fuel poverty were many and complex and were exacerbated by both structural and sociological factors. Further research, since (Boardman, 2010), reported similar findings, identifying the problem to be both acute and chronic.

Government statistics (DoECC, 2015) suggest a recent reduction in fuel poverty, but this is against a background of revised calculation and of a general decrease support for the less well off, and despite apparently well-intentioned government intervention, in 2013 there were still 2.35 million households that qualified for the description, ‘fuel poor’, the constituency on which this PhD proposal centres. Recently completed conceptual work (Woodall, Rosborough and Harvey, undated) identified a current a lack of coherent theory linking pertinent marketing and sociological concerns. Many social theories (e.g. domestication – Shove, Watson and Hand, 2007; affordance and constraint – Leonardi, 2011; sociomateriality – Orlikowski, 2007) identify practice (e.g. Schatzki, 1996) as the fundamental unit of analysis for social phenomena, but from a marketing perspective this under-represents both the consumers’ role (the principal agent in the study of markets) and the impact of communication on the habits that people form. Consequently, by melding ideas derived from both organisational and consumer behaviour literatures, a fourdimensional framework has been developed that elaborates the aggregation of customer perceived valuefocused cues within a defined smart meter eco-system. This, though, is yet to be put to empirical/practical test.

Lewis and Rosborough (2013) provides a provisional insight into a problem of significant social concern and, for what is clearly both a complex and potentially transformational (Gustafsson, et al 2015) area of research, we are looking to progress beyond theory, and to explore, further, attitude and experience within the salient research context. It is envisaged that this will represent a substantial and challenging project for a doctoral candidate wishing to develop their understanding of how marketing might work in complex social contexts.


Boardman, B. (2010). Fixing fuel poverty: challenges and solutions. London: Earthscan
DoECC (2013). Smart meters: a guide. Retrieved 7 January, 2014 from
DoECC (2015). Fuel Poverty Statistics Report: 2015. Retrieved 15 November, 2015 from
Gustafsson, A., Aksoy, L., Brady, M. K., McColl-Kennedy, J. R., Sirianni, N. J., Witell, L., & Wuenderlich, N. V. (2015). Conducting service research that matters. Journal of Services Marketing, 29(6/7), 425-429.
Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147-167.
Lewis, J. and Rosborough, J. (2013). Exploring the role of marketing as a tool to aid smart meter adoption amongst fuel poverty and vulnerable groups. Report for Chesshire-Lehmann Fund, Nottingham Trent University, UK.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: exploring technology at work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435-1448.
Schatzki, T. (1996). Social Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Shove, E., Watson, M., Hand, M. and Ingram, J. (2007). The Design of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg.
Wright, F. (2004). Old and cold: older people and policies failing to address fuel poverty. Social Policy & Administration, 38(5), 488-503.
Woodall, T., Rosborough, J. and Harvey, J. (undated). Proposal, project, practice, pause: exploring conceptual and methodological domains for evaluating engagement with a smart, domestic, intrusive technology. Currently under review.

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