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Asking about the future: methodological insights from energy biographies

Shirani, Fiona, Parkhill, Karen, Butler, Catherine, Groves, Chris ORCID:, Pidgeon, Nick ORCID: and Henwood, Karen ORCID: 2016. Asking about the future: methodological insights from energy biographies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 19 (4) , pp. 429-444. 10.1080/13645579.2015.1029208

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Temporality is fundamental to qualitative longitudinal (QLL) research, inherent in the design of returning to participants over time, often to explore moments of change. Previous research has indicated that talking about the future can be difficult, yet there has been insufficient discussion of methodological developments to address these challenges. This paper presents insights from the Energy Biographies project, which has taken a QLL and multimodal approach to investigating how everyday energy use can be understood in relation to biographical pasts and imagined futures. In particular, we detail innovative techniques developed within the project (e.g. SMS photograph activities) to elicit data on anticipated futures, in ways that engender thinking about participants’ own biographical futures and wider societal changes. We conclude by considering some of the significant benefits and challenges such techniques present. These methodological insights have a wider relevance beyond the substantive topic for those interested in eliciting data about futures in qualitative research.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 1364-5579
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 9 March 2015
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2024 07:24

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