Thinking energy ethics with care : citizens' perspectives on energy & the low-carbon transition

  • Caroline Sejer Damgaard

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Social science energy research is asking important questions about the social, political, and economic implications of energy transitions, and the consequent changing roles and relationships in the energy system. This has given rise to ethically and politically driven research agendas, for example around energy poverty and justice, as well as emerging conceptions of democracy and citizenship in the energy context. Within this scholarship, there is an increasing focus on the need to better understand how people relate in their daily lives, both to mundane dilemmas around energy use, and to bigger questions around energy systems and energy system change.

This thesis builds on these discussions with a particular focus on the concept of energy citizenship, an increasingly popular concept in both academic and political energy discourse. The thesis explores how a better understanding of citizens’ ethical attitudes towards energy might inform theorising of energy citizenship to better reflect everyday engagements with energy and energy transitions. To address this question, I draw on findings from Q-methodological research conducted in Denmark and the UK, and further reflect on the relevance of Q-methodology as a tool for social science energy research.

A Q-methodological study was conducted through interviews with thirty-nine residents in the UK and Denmark, in which participants were asked to consider a range of opinion statements drawn from public debates around energy transitions. Q-methodology was found to be a useful tool for opening up the complexities and ambiguities of the topic of energy transitions, in conversation with people of varying levels of energy knowledge.

The findings indicate that relational understandings of energy systems and a language of dependence, necessity and mutual responsibility are important elements in how people make sense of the energy transition and their place in it. This speaks strongly to recent advances of relational theories of energy systems and transitions, but calls for a recognition not only of inter-connections and relations, but of their ethical significance. To this end, I discuss the relevance of a care ethical framework for enriching our thinking around energy citizenship, and energy ethics more broadly.
Date of Award30 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorLouise Reid (Supervisor) & Darren McCauley (Supervisor)


  • Energy ethics
  • Care ethics
  • Low-carbon transition
  • Q-methodology
  • Denmark
  • United Kingdom

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