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Socio-material constructs of domestic energy demand: A study of middle-class housing and household practices in Pakistan- In Focus: the research of PhD student Rihab Khalid

Rihab Khalid 1

Energy use in buildings accounts for approximately one-third of global energy consumption and just over half of overall electricity demand. In the Global South, this consumption is predicted to grow nearly three times the rate for developed nations by 2040, under rapid urbanisation, economic development and the emergence of a new, high-consuming middle-class. As such, it becomes imperative to understand what this energy is for and how it has come about. Current building energy policy, with its largely technological template and economic focus fails to address the ways of living and the patterns of demand that emerge and evolve as a result of the specific socio-material and cultural contexts that underpin how the need for energy arises and evolves. This PhD research seeks to address the gap in current studies of domestic energy-use in the Global South from a socio-technical perspective. It identifies various nexuses of practices and spatial arrangements of urban housing that have emerged, persisted and transformed over time, giving rise to unsustainable levels of electricity consumption in middle-class housing in Lahore, Pakistan. By combining theories from the social sciences with the knowledge of spatial agency in design, the study explores sustainability interventions in house design and use, as well as implications for housing and energy policy in Pakistan.

The research employs a mixed-method approach for collecting data using various qualitative and quantitative techniques. These include semi-structured interviews with homeowners and housing practitioners, cross-cultural comparative analysis, house case-studies, oral history narratives, environmental monitoring, spatiotemporal mapping of household practice-arrangements as well a detailed review of archival documents relating to building regulations and house plans.

Some key contributions and important findings of the research are listed below;

  • It highlights the significance of local socio-material and cultural context in the performance of everyday household practices and resulting energy demands.
  • The study reveals that understanding the longitudinal dynamics of practice-arrangements can help identify and prevent normalisation of unsustainable configurations that gradually become embedded in social structures and practices. It foregrounds three key processes of change in household practice-arrangements as central to explaining increasing household electricity demand: a shift from outdoor to indoor activities, transformation from inward- to outward-oriented design and a spatial dispersion of practices.
  • Through a cross-cultural comparative analysis of household practices and energy demand management, the research highlights the importance of local socio-cultural dynamics and material context in the performance, bundling and synchronisation of practices. On this basis, it explores the implications of cross-cultural transfer of technology and demand response strategies in smart infrastructure development.
  • The study makes the connections between “good” and “bad” housing and household practices visible and demonstrates their significance in identifying key areas of intervention for sustainability. It further investigates the energy transitions needed in housing practices that, through interventions in house design, can lead to less energy intensive household practice-arrangements.

Key research publications:

Khalid, R., Sunikka-Blank, M., 2018. Coevolution of household practices and spatial layouts: a case of rising middle-class electricity consumption in the Global South. In The 5th European Conference on Behaviour and Energy Efficiency (BEHAVE) 2018, Zurich.

Khalid, R., Sunikka-Blank, M., 2018. Evolving houses, demanding practices: A case of rising electricity consumption of the middle class in Pakistan. Build. Environ. 143, 293–305. 

Khalid, R., Sunikka-Blank, M., 2017, Homely social practices, uncanny electricity demands: Class, culture and material dynamics in Pakistan, Energy Research & Social Science, 34, 122-131.

Khalid, R., Christensen, T.H., Gram-Hanssen, K., Friis, F., 2019.
Time-shifting laundry practices in a smart grid perspective: a cross-cultural analysis of Pakistani and Danish middle-class households.
Energy Efficiency.

Please see Rihab’s department profile here:

A short interview highlighting key points of the presentation for the 'In search of 'Good' Energy Policy' seminar series at CRASSH, Cambridge University

Rihab Khalid 2

Various socio-cultural characteristics and material arrangements that determine middle-class household practices and resulting electricity consumption in Lahore, Pakistan

Rihab Khalid 3

Time-line depicting the evolution of house layout in Lahore

Rihab Khalid 4

Spatio-temporal mapping of household practices in a conventional contemporary house versus a low-energy house in Lahore

Rihab Khalid article

Are our houses demanding more from us?' A synopsis of Rihab's B&E paper on ScienceTrends