Go back to article: Getting to grips with energy: fuel, materiality and daily life

Materials in use

A lot of the material culture of energy concerns how power is used and what for. In contrast to material objects in the strict sense, which are mostly tangible but inert, this means treating energy as a service and something on the move. People do not consume coal, gas or electricity for their own sake but for what they manage to perform, be it heating a room, rotating a wheel, or sending a text message. It is at this point that analytical danger lurks. Viewing energy purely as a means to an end can encourage a single-minded focus on the ends. A focus on the material culture of energy tries to avoid this. Instead of treating fuel and energy only as an input for something else, we are interested in the connections between fuel, domestic technology and skills. Wood and a fireplace are of not much use unless you know how to lay a fire and keep it alive. To see how these units fuse into a joint action, we can turn to practice theory: things, practitioners and competence come together to accomplish a practice.[6] The point to stress here is that material culture is relational. Energy enters into a relationship with the user via other material intermediaries (such as appliances, heaters, cookers, etc.). For curators and researchers alike, the focus of attention should therefore be as much as possible in making visible these points of contacts – and to show how they change across time.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180901/004