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District heating as heterotopia: Tracing the social contract through domestic energy infrastructure in Pimlico, London

Johnson, CE; (2016) District heating as heterotopia: Tracing the social contract through domestic energy infrastructure in Pimlico, London. Economic Anthropology , 3 (1) pp. 94-105. 10.1002/sea2.12047. Green open access

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Abstract

The Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (PDHU) was London's first attempt at neighborhood heating. Built in the 1950s to supply landmark social housing project Churchill Gardens, the district heating system sent heat from nearby Battersea power station into the radiators of the housing estate. The network is a rare example in the United Kingdom, where, unlike other European states, district heating did not become widespread. Today the heating system supplies more than 3,000 homes in the London Borough of Westminster, having survived the closure of the power station and the privatization of the housing estate it supplies. Therefore, this article argues, the neighborhood can be understood as a heterotopia, a site of an alternative sociotechnical order. This concept is used to understand the layers of economic, political, and technological rationalities that have supported PDHU and to question how it has survived radical changes in housing and energy policy in the United Kingdom. This lens allows us to see the tension between the urban planning and engineering perspective, which celebrates this system as a future-oriented “experiment,” and the reality of managing and using the system on the estate. The article analyzes this technology-enabled standard of living as a social contract between state and citizen, suggesting this is a way to analyze contemporary questions of district energy.

Type: Article
Title: District heating as heterotopia: Tracing the social contract through domestic energy infrastructure in Pimlico, London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1002/sea2.12047
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/sea2.12047
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2016 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Energy, Infrastructure, Material Culture, Heat Networks, Urban Anthropology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1502304
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