Doctoral student writing

Smart meters and the fuel poor: assessing perceived personal advantage at the convergence of culture, structure and agency

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2018
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


Smart meters are at the vanguard of a new breed of intrusive domestic technologies that will, ultimately, need to be promoted, accepted, and normalised into daily lives.  Despite this the marketing literature is largely bereft of associated study, with the sustainability, information systems and consumer culture literatures dominating debate.  One of the few studies to address this discrepancy - a pilot commissioned by the Chesshire Lehmann Fund (Lewis and Rosborough, 2013) - found that those most likely to benefit from the installation of smart meters were, perhaps, the least likely to welcome these into their homes.  According to the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DoECC, 2013), “Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their energy bills and offset price increases”, yet these arguments are neither clear nor convincing to all.  The report suggested - despite recent awareness campaigns - that through indifference, mistrust and lack of knowledge, both the elderly and the poor remained resistant to this apparently invaluable energy solution.

Research (Wright, 2004), funded by both British Gas and Help the Aged, suggested that causes of fuel poverty were many and complex and were exacerbated by both structural and sociological factors. Further research, since (Boardman, 2010), reported similar findings, identifying the problem to be both acute and chronic.  Government statistics (DoECC, 2015) suggest a recent reduction in fuel poverty, but this is against a background of revised calculation and of a general decrease support for the less well off, and despite apparently well-intentioned government intervention, in 2013 there were still 2.35 million households that qualified for the description, ‘fuel poor’, the constituency on which this PhD proposal centres.

Recently completed conceptual work (Woodall, Rosborough and Harvey, undated) identified a current a lack of coherent theory linking pertinent marketing and sociological concerns.  Many social theories (e.g. domestication – Shove, Watson and Hand, 2007; affordance and constraint – Leonardi, 2011; sociomateriality – Orlikowski, 2007) identify practice (e.g. Schatzki, 1996) as the fundamental unit of analysis for social phenomena, but from a marketing perspective this under-represents both the consumers’ role (the principal agent in the study of markets) and the impact of communication on the habits that people form. Consequently, by melding ideas derived from both organisational and consumer behaviour literatures, a four-dimensional framework has been developed that elaborates the aggregation of customer perceived value-focused cues within a defined smart meter eco-system.  This, though, is yet to be put to empirical/practical test.

Lewis and Rosborough (2013) provides a provisional insight into a problem of significant social concern and, for what is clearly both a complex and potentially transformational (Gustafsson, et al 2015) area of research, we are looking to progress beyond theory, and to explore, further, attitude and experience within the salient research context.  It is envisaged that this will represent a substantial and challenging project for a doctoral candidate wishing to develop their understanding of how marketing might work in complex social contexts.


Boardman, B. (2010). Fixing fuel poverty: challenges and solutions.  London: Earthscan
DoECC (2013). Smart meters: a guide. Retrieved 7 January, 2014 from
DoECC (2015). Fuel Poverty Statistics Report: 2015. Retrieved 15 November, 2015 from
Gustafsson, A., Aksoy, L., Brady, M. K., McColl-Kennedy, J. R., Sirianni, N. J., Witell, L., & Wuenderlich, N. V. (2015). Conducting service research that matters. Journal of Services Marketing29(6/7), 425-429.
Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147-167.
Lewis, J. and Rosborough, J. (2013). Exploring the role of marketing as a tool to aid smart meter adoption amongst fuel poverty and vulnerable groups.  Report for Chesshire-Lehmann Fund, Nottingham Trent University, UK.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: exploring technology at work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435-1448.
Schatzki, T. (1996). Social Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Shove, E., Watson, M., Hand, M. and Ingram, J. (2007). The Design of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg.
Wright, F. (2004). Old and cold: older people and policies failing to address fuel poverty. Social Policy & Administration, 38(5), 488-503.
Woodall, T., Rosborough, J. and Harvey, J. (undated). Proposal, project, practice, pause: exploring conceptual and methodological domains for evaluating engagement with a smart, domestic, intrusive technology. Currently under review.


Dr Tony Woodall

Dr Julie Rosborough

Entry qualifications

An applicant for admission to read for a PhD should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a Master's degree at Merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements. A research proposal (between 1,000 and a maximum of 2,000 words) must be submitted as part of the application.

For more information please visit the NTU Doctoral School – Research Degrees webpages.

How to apply

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round.

Download an application form here.
Please make sure you take a look at our application guidance notes before making your application.

Further information on how to apply can be found on this page.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD opportunity.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

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Tony Woodall