Exploring visions of energy transitions in the City and among environmental activists in the UK

Sarah O’Brien

Current Status

Sarah has completed her year of fieldwork in Lancashire, UK.

Project Duration

January 2018 – January 2022

Project Description

Sarah’s project focuses on the local realities of an energy transition in the UK in the context of climate change. More particularly, she is interested in the knowledge put forward by grassroots campaigners concerned with the impact of fossil fuel infrastructures. She has conducted twelve months of ethnographic research with a community in Lancashire, resisting unconventional gas extraction in the form of a hydraulic fracturing project (a process also known as ‘fracking’). The objectives of Sarah’s project are:

1) To examine perceptions of energy sources and climate change.
2) To understand shared and conflicting theories of change in relation to energy infrastructures and an energy transition.
3) To explore personal and collective visions of a ‘good’ future in the context of climate change.

The research methodology for this project was ethnographic and used a range of methods including participant observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews.

This project is part of the larger Energy Ethics research project led by Dr Mette High in the Department of Social Anthropology at St Andrews University and funded by the European Research Council.

Background

Sarah is personally and academically interested in exploring the interrelations between different kinds of values in the face of climate change. Her PhD research builds on her undergraduate dissertation research, which led her to explore conceptualisations of value(s) in the financial system, following the work of financial professionals in a hedge fund in London. The research methodology also consisted of participant observation and semi-structured interviews.

During her undergraduate years, she also volunteered around issues of social and environmental awareness in the student body. She worked with a coalition of student and staff engaging with the university on responsible investment strategies.

Sarah is particularly interested in communicating academic research to different audiences. Whilst working in Oxford prior to her doctoral research, she volunteered with the Tandem Collective in Oxford. The collective focuses on creatively linking up different initiatives working on environmental and social issues, and encouraging inclusive discussions around notions of sustainability.

Sarah holds a BA in Human, Social, and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK.