Public agency and responsibility in energy governance: A Q study on diverse imagined publics in the Dutch heat transition

T. S.G.H. Rodhouse*, U. Pesch, E. H.W.J. Cuppen, A. F. Correljé

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


In Energy Social Science (ESS), the concept of imagined publics is used to describe how energy actors perceive societal groups around new energy technologies and projects. Findings indicate that imagined publics often build upon deficit assumptions; people are (unjustly) considered unknowledgeable, incapable, unwilling and irresponsible agents in governance. While insightful, deficit-based explanations insufficiently capture the broad diversity of publics imagined around energy system change. In this paper, we share the results of a Q-study, designed to systematically identify diverse imagined publics in the Dutch heat transition. We found five imaginaries: 1. “Meaningful participation in a diverse society” 2. “Strong and enthusiastic communities in the lead” 3. “NIMBYs, social contestation and the threat to decarbonisation” 4. “Collectivism & vulnerable groups at risk” 5. “Unburdening individual user-consumers in the transition”. Each imaginary builds upon a different set of epistemic, action and normative assumptions, which construct public agency and responsibility in transitions in distinctive ways. We explore how these constructions come to justify roles and obligations for publics as well of other actors in the heat transition. One of our main contributions is that we explicitly move beyond the analysis of singular imaginaries as we consider imaginaries to be interactive, holistic, and contextual. In comparison, key social, ethical, and political tensions and trade-offs in the heat transition become visible.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102046
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Agency
  • Citizen inclusion
  • Heat transition
  • Imagined publics
  • Q methodology
  • Responsibility


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