Author Archive for Bridget Clark

Packing for the field

In approximately 27 days I will officially start my internship with the CEC. Taking pause from writing the last seminar paper of my graduate career, grading statistics homework, and compiling comprehensive exam reading lists, I am left contemplating what questions, skills, background knowledge I will bring with me into the field on that day.

When I began the seminar just ten short weeks ago, I had only a peripheral knowledge of public scholarship- the central concerns, power dynamic issues, methodologies, necessary skills, etc. Through various readings from the course, hearing from the other seminar participants, instructors and invited speakers, blogging about these issues, and engaging with my community partner, I bring with me a growing sense of what public scholarship is and who my publics are. How my job as a public scholar is to “be a facilitator and translator as well as an expert” (Lubar). How my project is in in some sense an attempt to act on the “pseudoenvironment” of California’s energy consumption, to evaluate the “fictions” created by current scientific models which ignore the human behavior components of the system. How all I really need to record interviews is my iPhone and a copy of GarageBand.

As a social scientist I bring with me years of experience and skill conducting literature reviews in the Sociology, Economics, and Public Policy, which will enable me to answer my project’s central question: What specific gaps/ areas of research are needed to better understand the role of human behavior in energy systems, energy efficiency, and energy conservation in the context of residential natural gas and/or electricity consumption? From surviving three years of the quarter system I have experience writing on subject I’ve only just begun to grasp myself, and yet am expected to engage with critically. This will come in handy given I’ve only allotted myself 60 hours to write the final report to the CEC!adventure meme

I also bring with me a growing list of articles, organizations, and experts whose brains I’d like to pick on these subjects. A supportive faculty mentor who has experience engaging with state and local agencies on topics relevant to the environment. Very enthusiastic community partners, who are not only excited about the project, but who also want to help mentor me and guide me through the foreign terrain of organizational structures and politics.

I expect to end my time in the field with a completed report the CEC that not only points out gaps in knowledge, but also persuades others in the organization of the importance of social science research to meet organizational objectives, and aligns with funding mechanisms. A better sense of what research and life outside the academy might look like. And finally a taste for what public scholarship is all about!

Mind the Gap!

“A toaster only becomes a toaster when a person plugs it in and pops a piece bread in it” joked one of my community partners in expressing their frustration at the lack of consideration of human and social behavior in many existing evaluations and planning of energy systems and climate adaption strategies. My partners at the CEC realize that combating climate change and promoting resilience in the energy sector is not just a technical problem, but a social problem as well. However, given organizational, funding, and political constraints they have not had the time or resources to invest in bringing the social back into the research agenda.

The lament of practically every sociologist is that no one ever seems to listens to us- there is no President’s Council of Sociological Advisors. And yet story after story of the growing inequality in the US, new wave of gentrification and displacement, or episode of police brutality continue to grace headlines. Our research just languishes in jargon filled journal articles, rather than translated into something assessable that can be placed in the hands of decision makers and communities with the power to mobilize around these problems we spend so much time thinking and writing about.

However, through the Mellon Public Scholars program I’ve been given a small opportunity to change that. This summer, I’ve been tasked with analyzing the current trends and gaps in the social science literatures on human behavior, energy consumption, and barriers/solutions to climate change adaption. This will involve not only shifting through a vast array of published material, but also engaging with other scholars about their work and assessment of the state of knowledge around these areas. Then I will synthesize this information into research memos, highlighting opportunities for additional research, and providing reasons why filling in these gaps would help further the CEC’s goals and objectives, but also potential benefits to electricity rate payers and the environment, that my community partners can draw on to not only persuade others in the organization of the importance of this kind of social scientific research.

Source: http://www.1hq.co.uk/mind-the-gap/

Source: http://www.1hq.co.uk/mind-the-gap/

As I begin to immerse myself in these streams of research, I’m quickly realizing the vast delta of material to cover. Given the short two-month time frame to complete this project, I know I can’t cover them all. So I look forward to continuing to learn more about the CEC in order to hone in on the streams that would be most useful to engaging their concerns. My turn to public scholarship has always been motivated by the vast communication gap I see between research, practice, and those on the ground, so with my summer I’m elated to take this small step towards bridging those gaps, and helping to lay a foundation for future engagement.

Engaging the pseudoenvironment of Energy Efficiency

My project, in partnership with the R&D “silo” of the California Energy Commission (CEC), is an examination of how we can conceive of and create measure of energy efficiency/consumption that can more fully capture how energy is actually being used among consumers, and identifying how these new measures, along with other institutional barriers that exist, effect the state’s ultimate goal to promote energy conservation. In this project, I have identified three separate publics. The first is the California Energy Commission itself. This state agency was found in the 1970s by Jerry Brown and serves as the chief energy planning and policy agency for the state of California. The second public is all energy consumers in California (ranging from residents to businesses). The third is energy policymakers and researchers, located outside of the CEC, who influence and construct energy policies.

In our second week of seminar we were confronted with the Walter Lippmann’s notion of the pseudoenvironment, i.e. the “picture in our heads” or rather our subjective interpretations of the world. We were asked to identify the nature and key actors in our public’s pseudoenvironment and the role we might play as Public Scholars in effecting that pseudoenvironment. To quote Lippmann at length,

“In all … instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where actions eventuates… when the stimulus of pseudo fact results in action on things or other people contradiction soon develops… For certainly, at the level of social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions. By fictions I do not mean lies. I mean a representation of the environment, which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself. The range of fiction extends all the way from complete hallucination to the scientists’ perfectly self conscious use of a schematic model,” (1922: 6-7).

My project deals most directly with examining the “fictions” created by the scientists’ models in mediating the pseudoenvironment of California’s energy consumption. In the last few decades we have made significant gains in increasing the energy efficiency of appliance, housing and building designs, etc. Nevertheless, it is still unclear as to whether these gains in efficiency are actually achieving California’s goal to conserve energy or whether a contradiction has developed. Part of this has to do with the ways in which we have attempted to quantify energy use. For example, residential energy use can be measured in terms of net energy used per million capita or total energy use per capita. However, an examination of these two measures over the last 40 years leads to wildly different conclusions about energy use in the era of “Energy Efficiency”. The net energy “fiction” indicates a downward tend in energy use, whereas the total energy use “fictions” indicates a stagnate trend in residential energy use- that energy use has not changed between 1975 and 2011- all of this despite more efficient appliances and rapid population growth (Moezzi 2015).

Thus in part, my project, can be thought of as an engagement with the second public, energy consumers, to uncover how they are actually using energy in order to understand how this can be better translated into measures useful to my other two publics- the CEC and the larger energy policy community, to augment the pseudoenvironment of California’s energy consumption and policy. It is all of our hopes that these new measures might align more directly with the “real” environment and that this might start to produce policies, which eventually achieve California’s energy conservation goals and start to ameliorate the effects the climate change.

 

Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

Moezzi, Mithra. 2015. “Numbers, stories, energy efficiency”. In Proceedings of the 2015 ECEEE Summer Study Proceedings. European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

 

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!”

I am here because I want my research to speak to a larger audience. As a doctoral candidate in sociology, I work on tax incentives and local economic development. Economists have argued for 40-plus years that more often than not tax incentives for business do more harm than good, and yet local practitioners and politicians have increased their use of these ineffective policy tools following the Great Recession. Since coming to graduate school I’ve realized that the process/ findings of research do not magically transform into knowledge for relevant publics. I’ve found a vast communication gap remains between scholars, practitioners, and local communities. We have to do more to present our work in ways that are not only accessible, but in formats that actively engages the audience.

That is how I’ve come to public scholarship. Like most academics, I had aspirations that my research would have “real world” implications, that it might change people’s perceptions about a social phenomenon, or speak to social justice issues. However, I thought that I could just stay in my ivory tower, write my jargon-filled journal articles, and that these would magically turn into policy briefs or reach beyond my academic audience to the mythical “public.”

So for me, the Mellon Public Scholars program represents the Prince’s cry: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.” In other words, come out of your ivory tower into the real world. Through partnership with a community organization, I hope to learn how to co-produce knowledge that is both rigorous and engaging, to learn what problems are of relevance and concern for people beyond “the literature”, and to gain skills and tools necessary to bridge these gaps between stakeholders and academics.

Almost as mythical as the “public,” public scholarship also remains this illusive concept that has recently gained traction within the academy. So for me, one of the things I hope to gain from participation in the Mellon Public Scholar’s seminar is a clearer conceptualization of what exactly we mean by “Public Scholarship,” how other’s have thought about this, engaged in this, and what it might look like in the future as this kind of scholarship gains legitimacy in the university.

So, to sum up “Why am I here?” I’d have to say I am here “to let down my hair”!