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

Sarah O’Brien

Current Status

Ethnographic fieldwork with grassroots environmental groups commenced in December 2018

Project Duration

November 2018 – January 2020

Project Description

Sarah’s four-year doctoral research focuses on conceptualisations of climate change and energy infrastructures in the UK. More particularly, she is interested in the knowledge put forward by climate finance initiatives in the City, and environmental activist groups in the context of an energy transition.

The objectives of the project are:

1) To examine the interrelation between economic and environmental perceptions of climate change.

2) To study theories of change in relation to financial and physical energy infrastructures.

3) To explore personal and collective visions of a “good” future in the context of climate change.

The research methodology for this project is ethnographic and uses a range of methods including participant observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews. The study involves a total of 12-15 months of fieldwork. Data is collected in a non-judgemental manner and stored according to strict university data protection policy guidelines designed to protect the anonymity of project participants. Should there be any concerns about data protection, please do not hesitate to ask for clarifications.

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


This multi-sited research project is the result of Sarah’s personal and academic background.

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

This experience led her to explore conceptualisations of value(s) in the financial system for her undergraduate dissertation, working as a financial analyst intern in a hedge fund in London. The research methodology also consisted of participant observation and semi-formal interviews.

Sarah is particularly interested in communicating academic research to different audiences. Her work with the Tandem Collective in Oxford 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.