Dr Kate Burningham

Research Interests

From January 2016, Kate will be a co-investigator in a new multi-disciplinary ESRC Research Centre, Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP)  led by Professor Tim Jackson. Kate will lead one of the work themes focusing on the social and psychological dimensions of prosperity exploring how people negotiate their aspirations for the good life. One of the projects within this theme is an international study being developed in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) entitled: Children and Youth in Cities - a Lifestyle Evaluation Study (CYCLES for Sustainability)
Kate was  recently a co-investigator in both the ESRC research group on Lifestyles, Values and Energy Consumption (RESOLVE) and the ESRC, Defra and Scottish Government funded Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) in which she led a qualitative longitudinal project Exploring Lifestyle Changes in Transition (ELiCiT).
Past funded research includes: for the ESRC, ‘Beyond NIMBY: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of Public Engagement with Renewable Energy Technologies’ and ‘Understanding Lay Environmental Knowledge in Industry’ ; for The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Vulnerability to heat and drought in the South West of England’ and ‘Rainforests are a long way from here: the environmental concerns of disadvantaged groups’; for the Environment Agency projects researching vulnerability to flooding, public responses to flood warnings, and environmental inequalities and a project for the ESRC, The Environment  Agency and Hull City Council  exploring children’s experiences of flooding in Hull.  
Kate supervisees a number of PhD students located in the Department of Sociology and in CES.


In the Sociology Department Kate teaches on a number of research methods modules, offers options on the Sociology of the Environment and on Everyday Consumption and its Consequences and co-ordinates the final year dissertation process.  In CES she teaches an introductory module on Social Research Methods for masters and doctoral students.

Related Links

Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP)
Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ces/

Contact Me

Phone: 01483 68 6688

Find me on campus
Room: 06 AD 03

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Journal articles

  • Burningham KA. (2017) 'Energy use: The significance of relationships'. Nature Publishing Group Nature Energy,
    [ Status: Accepted ]


    Understanding individual energy use can inform interventions for energy conservation. A longitudinal qualitative interview study shows that energy use behavior is not simply a matter of individual choice, but rather is influenced by unique personal circumstances and familial and social relationships, which change over time.

  • Burningham K, Venn S. (2017) 'Are lifecourse transitions opportunities for moving to more sustainable consumption?'. SAGE Publications Journal of Consumer Culture,


    The idea that lifecourse transitions might offer ‘moments of change’ in which to encourage more sustainable consumption is popular. However insights from sociological literature on lifecourse transitions have rarely been brought to bear on this assumption and little research explores how everyday consumption may change through such transitions. This paper focuses on two distinct lifecourse transitions - becoming a mother and retirement – and through qualitative longitudinal research evaluates the assumption that such periods provide opportunities for movement to more sustainable consumption. Three interviews were conducted with 40 new mothers and 40 retirees in the UK exploring change and continuity in aspects of everyday consumption. While our findings confirm that these are times of significant change with potential impacts on the sustainability of everyday consumption, we conclude that to characterise such transitions as ‘moments of change’ fails to adequately capture their lived experience.

  • Melville E, Christie I, Burningham K, Way C, Hampshire P. (2017) 'The electric commons: a qualitative study of community accountability'. Elsevier Energy Policy, 106, pp. 12-21.


    This study explores how energy might be conceptualised as a commons, a resource owned and managed by a community with a system of rules for production and consumption. It tests one aspect of Elinor Ostrom’s design principles for successful management of common pool resources: that there should be community accountability for individual consumption behaviour. This is explored through interviews with participants in a community demand response (DR) trial in an urban neighbourhood in the UK. Domestic DR can make a contribution to balancing electricity supply and demand. This relies on smart meters, which raise vertical (individual to large organisation) privacy concerns. Community and local approaches could motivate greater levels of DR than price signals alone. We found that acting as part of a community is motivating, a conclusion which supports local and community based roll out of smart meters. Mutually supportive, voluntary, and anonymous sharing of information was welcomed. However, mutual monitoring was seen as an invasion of horizontal (peer to peer) privacy. We conclude that the research agenda, which asks whether local commons-based governance of electricity systems could provide social and environmental benefits, is worth pursuing further. This needs a shift in regulatory barriers and ‘governance-system neutral’ innovation funding.

  • Burningham KA, Venn SH. (2017) 'Understanding and Practising Sustainable Consumption in Early Motherhood'. Ethical Consumer Research Association Ltd Journal of Consumer Ethics, 1 (2)
    [ Status: Accepted ]


    This paper explores when environmentally sustainable consumption occurs for new mothers, and how their constructions of sustainable lifestyles align with, or are challenged, by the everyday priorities of family life.

    The study involved longitudinal qualitative research with new mothers. Interviews focused on how ordinary consumption shifted or remained stable, with sustainability only being explicitly discussed in the final interview.

    Environmentally sustainable modes of consumption were adopted when they were considered to be in synergy with the over-riding project of doing family. Participants constructed environmental sustainability as an ideal at odds with the reality of everyday family life. We suggest there is a need for greater attention to the gender and relational dimensions of environmentally sustainable practice, and for the promotion of holistic discourses of sustainable consumption which align sustainable living with the maintenance of family life.

  • VENN S, BURNINGHAM K, CHRISTIE I, JACKSON T. (2015) 'Consumption junkies or sustainable consumers: considering the grocery shopping practices of those transitioning to retirement'. Ageing and Society,
    [ Status: Accepted ]


    Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015The current generation of older people who are approaching or recently experiencing retirement form part of a unique generational habitus who have experienced a cultural shift into consumerism. These baby boomers are often portrayed as engaging in excessive levels of consumption which are counter to notions of sustainable living and to intergenerational harmony. This paper focuses on an exploration of the mechanisms underpinning the consumption patterns of baby boomers as they retire. We achieve this through an understanding of the everyday practices of grocery shopping which have the potential to give greater clarity to patterns of consumption than the more unusual or ‘extraordinary’ forms of consumption such as global travel. In-depth interviews with 40 older men and women in four locations across England and Scotland were conducted at three points in time across the period of retirement. We suggest that the grocery shopping practices of these older men and women were influenced by two factors: (a) parental values and upbringing leading to the reification of thrift and frugality as virtues, alongside aspirations for self-actualisation such as undertaking global travel, and (b) the influence of household context, and caring roles, on consumption choices. We conclude with some tentative observations concerning the implications of the ways baby boomers consume in terms of increasing calls for people to live in more sustainable ways.

  • Burningham KA, Barnett J, Walker G. (2014) '‘An array of deficits: Unpacking NIMBY discourses in wind energy proponents’ conceptualisations of their local opponents’'. Taylor & Francis Society and Natural Resources,


    UK energy policy contains ambitious goals for increased deployment of renewable energy technologies (RETs), but concern remains about the potential of local opposition to obstruct proposed developments. Despite emerging academic consensus that characterizing opposition to RET siting as NIMBYism is problematic, the discourse remains strong in popular debate. This article responds to calls for sociological research on both ascriptions of NIMBYism and the use of deficit models. Through an analysis of interviews with key actors in the renewable energy industry, we explore the ways in which a discourse of NIMBYism is evident in their descriptions of local wind farm opponents. We conceptualize this discourse as embodying an array of deficit models of the public and public knowledge. This is significant not only because developers' constructions of publics inform their modes of engagement with them, but also because they may influence public responses themselves.

  • Atkinson G, Doick K, Burningham KA, France C. (2014) '‘Brownfield regeneration to greenspace: Delivery of project objectives for social and environmental gain’.'. 8 Edition. Elsevier Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 2, pp. 161-178.
  • Shrestha S, Burningham KA, Grant CB. (2014) 'Constructions of Climate Change on the Radio and in Nepalese Lay Focus Groups'. Taylor & Francis Environmental Communication, 8 (2), pp. 161-178.


    To date analyses of media climate change constructions have mostly focused on coverage in western newspapers. Consideration of coverage in developing countries, and analyses of media constructions alongside local understandings of climate change are comparatively rare. This article provides an analysis of the construction of climate change on Nepalese radio and lay constructions of environment and climate change within the country. Data from a radio programme and six focus groups are analysed. Analysis of the radio programme indicated that climate change was portrayed as a certain reality with national impacts caused by the actions of the West. While climate change dominated the radio headlines, in focus groups local environmental problems received far more attention. The paper aims to both inform directions for future climate change communication in Nepal and the wider research agenda.

  • Spinney J, Burningham KA, Cooper G, Green N, Uzzell D. (2012) ''What I've found is that your related experiences tend to make you dissatisfied': Psychological obsolescence, consumer demand and the dynamics and environmental implications of de-stabilisation in the laptop sector’'. Sage Journal of Consumer Culture, 12 (3), pp. 347-370.


    Research on product life-spans tends to link the causes of psychological obsolescence with end-users and product designers, and posits the consequences of obsolescence in terms of increasing e-waste and energy use. Drawing upon qualitative fieldwork conducted with employees of a global computer firm and users of its laptop computers this article brings together the poles of production and consumption to explore the dynamics of de-stabilization in product qualities, connecting the intensification of this process to psychological obsolescence and unsustainable patterns of consumption. First, we demonstrate that consumer-facing functions within the firm such as user research, sales and marketing play a key role in driving the pace of technological change within the firm by specifying consumer demand. We argue that by distilling an imaginary demanding consumer from various sources, the firm justifies and drives rapid de-stabilization in product qualities and specifications. We show how this prompts end consumers to constantly re-evaluate product qualities, devaluing existing products and contributing to psychological obsolescence and disposal of functioning products. We then go on to discuss the environmental implications of this process, suggesting that whilst premature disposal due to perceived obsolescence may not increase waste in the short term, it is still likely to contribute to an increase in material and energy use in manufacturing.

  • Walker M, Whittle R, Medd W, Burningham K, Moran-Ellis J, Tapsell S. (2012) ''It came up to here': Learning from children's flood narratives'. Taylor & Francis Children's Geographies, 10 (2), pp. 135-150.
  • Cooper G, Green NC, Burningham K, Evans D, Jackson T. (2012) 'Unravelling the threads: discourses of sustainability and consumption in an online forum'. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Environmental communication, 6 (1), pp. 101-118.


    This article analyzes an online discussion that followed an article published by UK environmental activist and journalist George Monbiot in The Guardian online newspaper. The analysis addresses the ways in which participants in an online forum debate responded to the tensions and contradictions between lifestyle, consumption, and sustainability highlighted in the original article. The discursive construction of class, green political orientations, and identities; visions of “the good life”; and appeals to religion and science are highlighted throughout the analysis—as are the discursive strategies for positioning self, other, and audience in the debate. The argument emphasizes the heterogeneity of discursive positioning and reflects on the role of social media in the politics of consumption and sustainability, especially given the inherent reflexivity of web forums as online communicative forms.

  • Barnett J, Burningham K, Walker G, Cass N. (2012) ''Imagined publics and engagement around renewable energy in the UK''. Sage Public Understanding of Science, 21 (1), pp. 36-50.


    Against the backdrop of the imperatives for actors within the institutional framework of energy socio-technical systems to engage with the public, the aim of this paper is to consider interdependencies between the principles and practice of engagement and the nature of the imagined publics with whom engagement is being undertaken. Based on an analysis of 19 interviews with actors in the renewable energy industry, the paper explores how publics are imagined in the construction of the rationales, functions and mechanisms for public engagement. Three main themes are identified. First, the perceived necessity of engagement – which is not contingent on public responsiveness. Second, engagement is primarily conceptualised in terms of instrumental motives of providing information and addressing public concern. Third, preferences for engagement mechanisms were often a function of the specific characteristics attributed to imagined publics. Implications of this analysis for future engagement around siting renewable energy technologies are considered.

  • Spinney J, Green N, Burningham K, Cooper G, Uzzell D. (2012) ''Are we sitting comfortably? Domestic imaginaries, laptop practices, and energy use''. Pion Environment and Planning A: international journal of urban and regional research, 44 (11), pp. 2629-2645.


    The considerable literature on domestic energy consumption practices has tended to focus on either the (re)production and contestation of normative imaginaries, or the links between escalating standards and energy use. Far less has been written which links these related areas together. Accordingly, this paper is positioned at the intersection of debates on domestic consumption, energy use, and home cultures. Through a qualitative study of laptop use in the home, we illustrate how energy-intensive practices, such as ‘always-on-ness’, and changing computer ecologies and infrastructures, are intimately bound up with the reproduction of particular domestic imaginaries of family and home. A key insight in this paper is that a purely physiological conception of comfort would fail to explain fully why practices such as always-on-ness emerge, and thus we theorise comfort as an accomplishment comprised of inseparable temporal, bodily, spatial, and material elements. Ultimately, we argue here that comfort needs to be understood as a multivalent imaginary that is itself bound up in broader idealised notions of family and home in order to comprehend shifting practices, computing ecologies, and rising energy consumption.

  • Walker G, Burningham K. (2011) 'Flood risk, vulnerability and environmental justice: evidence and evaluation of inequality in a UK context'. Sage Critical Social Policy, 31 (2), pp. 216-240.


    Flooding has only relatively recently been considered as an environmental justice issue. In this paper we focus on flooding as a distinct form of environmental risk and examine some of the key evidence and analysis that is needed to underpin an environmental justice framing of flood risk and flood impacts. We review and examine the UK situation and the body of existing research literature on flooding to fill out our understanding of the patterns of social inequality that exist in relation to both flood risk exposure and vulnerability to the diverse impacts of flooding. We then consider the various ways in which judgements might be made about the injustice or justice of these inequalities and the ways in which they are being sustained or responded to by current flood policy and practice. We conclude that there is both evidence of significant inequalities and grounds on which claims of injustice might be made, but that further work is needed to investigate each of these. The case for pursuing the framing of flooding as an environmental justice issue is also made.

  • Catan- Broto V, Burningham KA, Carter C, Elgahli L. (2010) 'Stigma and attachment: performance of identity in an environmentally degraded place'. Taylor & Francis Society and Natural Resources, 23 (10), pp. 952-968.


    Research examining the relationship between place and identity shows that the experience of places influences a person's process of identification, through which an emotional bond with the place may be developed. However, the implications of this literature for land restoration remain unexplored. This is partially due to a gap in empirical research that explores the performance of identities in environmentally degraded settings. This article examines the relationship between identity and place among residents living around five coal ash disposal sites in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The article develops a qualitative model to understand the emergence of divergent responses toward the pollution and illustrates that in an environmentally degraded setting the bonds between the individuals and the place are not necessarily dislocated; in some cases, these bonds may be even reinforced by the performance of adaptative identities in response to environmental change.

  • Walker G, Cass N, Burningham K, Barnett J. (2010) '"Renewable energy and sociotechnical change: imagined subjectivities of ‘the public’ and their implications"'. Pion Environment and Planning A, 42 (4), pp. 931-947.


    The public’ are potentially implicated in processes of sociotechnical change as political actors who welcome or resist technology development in general, or in particular places and settings. We argue in this paper that the potential influence of public subjectivities on sociotechnical change is realised not only through moments of active participation and protest, but also through ‘the public’ being imagined, given agency, and invoked for various purposes by actors in technical – industrial and policy networks. As a case study we explore the significance of an imagined and anticipated public subjectivity for the development of renewable energy technologies in the UK. We use interviews with a diversity of industry and policy actors to explore how imaginaries of the public are constructed from first-hand and mediated experience and knowledge, and the influence these imagined public subjectivities may have on development trajectories and on actor strategies and activities. We show how the shared expectation of an ever present latent but conditional public hostility to renewable energy project development is seen as shaping the material forms of the technologies, their evolving spatiality, and practices of public engagement involved in obtaining project consent. Implications for the actors we are interested in and for broader questions of democratic practice are considered.

  • Burningham K, Fielding J, Thrush D. (2008) '‘“It’ll never happen to me”: Understanding Public Awareness of Local Flood Risk’'. Wiley Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management, 32 (2), pp. 216-238.
  • Burningham K, Barnett J, Carr A, Clift R, Wehrmeyer W. (2007) 'Industrial constructions of publics and public knowledge: a qualitative investigation of practice in the UK chemicals industry'. Public Understanding of Science, 16 (1), pp. 23-43.

Book chapters

  • Burningham K. (2012) 'NIMByism'. in Smith SJ, Elsinga M, Fox O'Mahony L, Eng O, Wachter S, Lovell J (eds.) International Encyclopedia of Housing and Home Elsevier 5, pp. 127-130.
  • Walker G, Devine-Wright P, Barnett J, Burningham K, Cass N, Devine-Wright H, Speller G, Barton J, Evans B, Heath Y, Infield D, Parks J, Theobald K. (2010) 'Symmetries, expectations, dynamics and contexts: a framework for understanding public engagement with renewable energy projects'. in Devine-Wright P (ed.) Renewable Energy and the Public: From Nimby to Participation London : Earthscan / Routledge, Taylor & Francis Article number 1 , pp. 2-14.
  • Clift R, Burningham K, Lofstedt R. (1995) 'Environmental Perspectives and Environmental Assessment'. in Guerrier Y (ed.) Values and the environment: A Social Science Perspective Wiley , pp. 19-31.


  • Benzie M, Harvey A, Burningham K, Hodgson N, Siddiqi A. (2011) Vulnerability to heatwaves and drought. Case studies of adaptation to climate change in South-west England. York, UK : Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Theses and dissertations

  • Velenturf A. (2016) Promoting industrial symbiosis : analysing context and network evolution during biowaste-to-resource innovations..
    [ Status: Approved ]


    Government and industry increasingly face challenges resulting from resource scarcity and climate change. By reducing carbon emissions whilst promoting resource efficiency and business development, industrial symbiosis has been recognised as a strategy to manage these challenges. Industrial symbiosis can be interpreted as the innovative use of waste from one company as a resource for another company, i.e. waste-to-resource innovation. These resource innovations involve the development of relations between waste producers and users, and often governmental organisations and other actors. A review of industrial symbiosis and relevant network and innovation literature concluded that empirical understanding of the implementation of industrial symbiosis, and consequently how it can be promoted by public and private organisations, needed considerable improvement. Hence, a qualitative empirical exploration was conducted to answer the question: How and why did industrial symbiosis develop over time? The exploration was carried out in the Humber region (UK) and, with several bio-based developments emerging in the area, focused on biowaste-to-resource innovation. Case studies with companies revealed: the social process through which resource partnerships developed; important contextual conditions (resource security, economic benefits, and governance); and varying network diversification and strengthening strategies. Analysing these innovations in their longer-term dynamic contexts revealed different business-responses to context-changes through their varying innovation and government-engagement strategies. Some companies were constrained by poor harmonisation of economic and various governmental drivers. In particular, since 2012, regional governance capacity for biowaste-to-resource innovation decreased while such innovations gained momentum at national government level. These findings have added to understanding of variation in factors and processes associated with implementing industrial symbiosis through company activities, strategies, and collaborations; and the relations between context dynamics, evolution of industrial symbiosis networks, and on-going business development. The level of detail revealed in this inductive empirical research contributed to identifying numerous further research directions. Moreover, practical recommendations were provided to companies and governmental organisations supporting the promotion of industrial symbiosis and contributing to the on-going transition to a more resource efficient and circular economy.

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