Aesthetics and Affect: Engaging Energy Communities

Michael, Mike; Wilkie, Alex and Ovalle, Liliana. 2018. Aesthetics and Affect: Engaging Energy Communities. Science as Culture, 27(4), pp. 439-463. ISSN 0950-5431 [Article]

Aesthetics and Engagement Accepted.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (116kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Engaging publics in participatory events has been regarded as a central means to introducing lay people's voices into processes of technoscientific innovation and governance. While many criticisms have been levelled at the methods and techniques of participation and engagement, little attention has been paid to the role of aesthetics. This is especially the case when aesthetics is understood in terms of opening up new and potential ways of critically and creatively engaging with technoscientific matters of concern. The terms semblamatic and matters of potentially are proposed as usefully capturing this dimension of aesthetics. Drawing on practice-based design research, a probe workshop was developed and members of energy communities were invited to it. These lay people had an invested interest in reducing energy demand in their communities. Three probe exercises were implemented: these were designed to playfully to open up potential re-articulations of, respectively, such core themes as energy, communities and futures. Our goals were to examine the extent to which such probes enabled semblamatic responses in relation to the core themes, and to explore whether the exercises facilitated participants' engagement with these themes as matters of potentiality. Findings were mixed. The retention of standard meanings of these core themes was certainly in evidence, showing that such events can be, despite the best intentions, anaesthetic, blunting people's affective access to the semblamatic aspects of engagement. Conversely, there were also instances of a novel opening up in which the core themes were creatively re-articulated, though this required a semblamatic reading of collective participant responses. The present perspective, with its three novel terms - semblamatic, matters of potentiality, and anaesthetic - might prove useful in alerting scholars to the complex role of aesthetics in the methodological and analytic practices entailed in engagement with publics.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

This paper draws on research conducted under the project grant ‘Sustainability Invention and Energy-Demand Reduction: Co-designing Communities and Practice’ funded by RCUK and led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [project code ES/1007318/1].


Energy, Public Engagement, Community, Speculation, Aesthetics, Future, Design

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Design > Interaction Research Studio
Sociology > Centre for Invention and Social Process (CISP) [2016-]
Design > Design Societies Research Unit


12 June 2018Accepted
5 July 2018Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2018 10:04

Last Modified:

24 May 2023 13:59

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)