What is energy democracy? Connecting social science energy research and political theory.

Bregje van Veelen, Dan van der Horst

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In recent years the term ‘energy democracy’ has become increasingly popular, especially in the context of aspirations for a low-carbon transition that include wider socio-economic and political transformation. The emergence of ‘energy democracy’ is thus part of a broader trend in research and practice which has sought to foreground the 'stuff’ of politics. Yet, unlike the more academically developed concepts of energy justice and energy citizenship, energy democracy is a concept that emerged largely from social movements. This has resulted in a body of literature with little connection to established academic debates and theories. The growing popularity of the concept calls for a critical evaluation of the term and how it is used. By reviewing existing energy democracy publications and bringing these in conversations with more theoretical literature, we are seeking to address four issues; the rationale for pursuing energy democracy, the people and stakeholders involved and excluded, the proposed material focus of energy democracy, and the geographical focus of energy democracy. In the subsequent discussion we draw connections between energy democracy, the growing body of social science energy research and political theory, and identify avenues for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank the two reviewers for their insightful comments, which greatly helped strengthen the content and structure of this paper. We also thank Dr. Claire Haggett for feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Energy Systems

Free keywords

  • Associative democracy
  • Community
  • Energy
  • Materiality
  • Politics
  • Transition


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