Stories of Change: Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future, 2014 – 2017

This article has been copied from the Stories of Change website.

March 2014February 2017

Dr Joe Smith has been awarded a £1.47M large grant on the project titled Stories of Change: Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future related to the AHRC’s Connected Communities theme.

About the project

The Stories of Change project aims to help to revive stalled public and political conversations about energy by looking in a fresh way at its past, present and future.

The project draws on history, literature, social and policy research and the arts to encourage a more imaginative approach to current and future energy choices. The project is shaped around the cross-party commitments to decarbonisation that sit at the heart of the UK Government’s Climate Change Act. Research has shown that many people feel disengaged, disempowered or actively hostile to the changes to the UK’s energy system required to meet the targets embedded in the Act. At the same time it shows wide acceptance that actions will be required to reduce demand and cope with future environmental hazards. However new developments and measures to manage or reduce demand can generate dispute. Our project seeks to make space to work through areas of concern and explore elements of a collective vision.
We are inspired by the example of the Mass Observation movement’s stories of change in everyday life in the UK, above all in the 1930s and 1940s. Their work combined a desire to give ordinary people a voice, radical innovations in social research and bold new ideas about media and the arts. It has inspired our three objectives:
  1. To listen to and give a platform to more diverse, often unheard, voices
  2. To mobilise change through research and the arts
  3. To innovate in use of digital media

Stories of Change is organised around three mini research projects, or ‘stories’ and one cross-cutting project ‘Energetic’ that supports these. Story 1: Policy Story: Demanding Times gathers a novel mix of communities of interest around energy policy, and generates new accounts of energy policy and politics past, present and future. Story 2: Industry Story: Future Works is rooted in the English midlands, and seeks to unearth fresh accounts of the long relationship between energy, industrial making and landscape, and explores where it might go next. Story 3: Everyday Story: Life Cycles engages with the role that energy resources have played in shaping communities and everyday life in south Wales.

We are working with stories because they offer a popular and engaging route into thinking about the past and present and imagining possible futures, and also because stories, narratives and narration are concepts that everybody can gather around. History, digital storytelling, fictional narratives, and scenarios of the future all communicate different ideas about the consequences of change for everyday life, and explain different perspectives and attitudes towards change.
We will gather these stories – old and new – into an online publicly accessible collection (our ‘Stories Platform’). We will offer pathways (‘stories’) through the materials, but it will also be easy for users to browse, or make up their own stories of change, by threading material together using digital tools we provide. The academic team will work with partners to produce research outputs, including: academic articles and a book, policy briefs and popular materials. The communities, our creative partners and the research team will also collaborate to produce a mix of creative writing, songs, short films, performances and museum and festival shows.

About the team

The project is being led by Dr Joe Smith of The Open University’s Geography Department. Joe is also leading Story 1 ‘Demanding Times’. Renata Tyszczuk of the University of Sheffield School of Architecture leads Story 2 ‘Future Works’, and Karen Lewis of University of South Wales leads Story 3 ‘Life Cycles’. The team also includes Rosie Day (University of Birmingham, geography), Axel Goodbody (University of Bath, literature), Bradon Smith (University of Bath/The Open University, literature), Julia Udall (University of Sheffield, architecture), Nicola Whyte (University of Exeter, history) Zdenek Zdrahal and team (Open University Knowledge Media Institute) and our core-team arts organisation partners Peter Gingold (Tipping Point) and Yvette Vaughan-Jones (Visiting Arts).


Dr Joe Smith (
Tel. 01908 654613

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