The Domestic Nexus: Interrogating the interlinked practices of water, energy and food consumption

The Nexus concept refers to the interdependencies of energy, food and water. It is playing an increasingly key role in focusing academic debate and policy development, focusing attention as it does upon the inter-relations between water, energy and food resource flows and related issues in the wider environment. To date, research around the Nexus has principally addressed supply side issues at the national and international level. This ESRC-funded network will extend the Nexus concept to examine the dynamics of consumption at the domestic (household) scale. The household is a critical junction where the provisioning of resources (water, food, energy) meets with everyday practices (of laundry, eating, comfort, etc.).

The rationales for extending the nexus concept to the household scale are that:

  1. The dynamics of consumption are fundamental to a holistic understanding of the nexus, as the systems of supply and distribution through which energy, water and food flow ultimately are rooted in demand for services and products.
  2. The nexus of food, water and energy are as apparent at the domestic scale as anywhere else, being where systems of provision are brought together in the accomplishment of practices such as cooking or showering.
  3. A burgeoning field of research has explored domestic consumption in each of the water, food and energy domains, often revealing their inter-linkages. The ‘domestic nexus’ concept integrates across domains.

While consumption and provisioning have often been held analytically separate in previous research, practice theory has been shown to provide a vehicle for exploring the points of connection, mediation and translation between ‘doing’ and ‘providing’ (Reckwitz 2002, Warde 2005). By focusing on the coordination and reproduction of consumer practice through an exploration of the routines and rhythms of everyday life it provides a means to realise innovative work on Nexus issues and a framework for generating new insights into how resource-intensive practices might be reshaped. The workshop series will critically engage the burgeoning research already carried out in relation to domestic energy, food and water consumption in relation to the nexus concept, and implications for policy.

The series comprises a workshop in Sheffield on 15th October, one in Manchester on 23rd November, and one in London on 9th December 2015.

The Domestic Nexus is a networking project led by Matt Watson with Peter Jackson and Liz Sharp from University of Sheffield and Dale Southerton, David Evans, Alan Ward and Ali Browne at the University of Manchester. It is funded by the ESRC Nexus Network+.


15th October 2015


This workshop will explore the state of contemporary understanding of domestic practices in relation to resource consumption across each specific domain (energy, food, water), with a focus upon transition moments, and whether and how initiatives have successfully targeted these moments as an effective means of intervention. It will also explore what is known about how practices change through time including how they are linked to a person’s stage in the life course and/or to the context and infrastructure in which their cohort habituated particular practices.

Questions will include:

  • Does a nexus understanding bring to light different potential sites of intervention in relation to moments of transition?
  • How are moments of transition balanced by the reproduction of practices and continuities in everyday life?
  • What do we know about which practices are associated with age and which with cohort or generation, and what methods of research have been most useful in providing this information?
  • What patterns can we discern about why some practices vary more closely with age and others with cohort?
  • What are the implications of our conclusions in terms of how a particular cohort or age group might be targeted in an intervention?
  • What initiatives or research questions would throw more light on the role of age and cohort effects in relation to domestic practices?


23rd November 2015


This workshop will bring together understanding from across the distinct domains comprising the Nexus, and the field of sustainable consumption more generally. It will focus on the dynamics and factors – including deliberate interventions – which have led to the re-shaping of domestic practices to less resource intensive configurations. Workshop discussion is expected to explore:

  • The relationship between theoretical understanding, analytical approaches, methodologies and policy formulation
  • Methodological approaches which push practice theory approaches beyond the orthodoxy of ethnographic/qualitative case studies, eg;
  1. Big data and other quantitative methods, secondary data sets, time use survey
  2. Urban experimentation/living labs
  • Identification of different changes which have shifted practices towards lower resource intensity, including specific interventions but also looking to other unintended sources of change to domestic routines such as in economic, technological or policy changes
  • Alternatives to conventional ‘behaviour change’ initiatives which focus on systemic rather than individual-level change
  • The relationships between initiatives’ institutional contexts and their public reception (for example, the differences between promotion by a utility provider and a third sector organisation)


9th December 2015


This workshop will bring together the conclusions from the previous discussions to focus on opportunities to enable more sustainable domestic nexuses to be enabled. The workshop will be professionally facilitated and run in a format enabling creative discussion and exchange to think through the challenges and potential for different possible ideas for initiatives generated in previous workshops.
This workshop will be held in London to facilitate participation from government, business and third sector partners.

Question for discussion are likely to include:

  • What sets of target practices / householders / enablers might constitute appropriate foci for different initiatives concerned to impact on the domestic nexus?
  • What would/should constitute evidence of ‘success’ for practice informed initiatives focused on the domestic nexus?
  • Which organisations and forms of governance are best placed to co-ordinate initiatives focused on the domestic nexus?
  • What broader different arrangements of governing, policy and funding would be needed if government were to prioritise the transformation of domestic practices?