Dr Catherine Butler
Associate Professor in Human Geography
Amory Amory C364b
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
Office hours: My office hours are bookable via my Bookings page.
My office hours are bookable via my Bookings page.
I am an environmental social scientist committed to interdisciplinary collaborations. My research centres around analysis of environmental governance processes with focus on the intersections between policy and everyday life. I am convenor of the British Sociological Association Climate Change Study Group and a Committee Member of the Royal Geographical Society Energy Geographies Research Group. I have published extensively in journals including Nature Climate Change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Global Environmental Change, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (A). I am currently co-investigator on two projects: The British Academy funded Energy for Wellbeing; and the Wellcome Trust funded Evaluating Health Impacts of Climate Adaptation Strategies. My previous projects include: Principle Investigator for the ESRC Winter Floods project, and the EPSRC Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand grant funded as part of the Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand Centre. Co-investigator on the ESRC/EPSRC Energy Biographies project and the UKERC/NERC funded project Public Values for Energy System Change.
Broad research specialisms:
- Environmental governance, policy, and politics
- Public engagement with socio-environmental issues
- Community resilience
- Social practice, behaviour and environmental sustainability
- Energy system transitions
- Wellbeing and health
- Qualitative research methods
- Mixed methods social research
PhD Environmental Sociology (2008)
MSc Social Science Research Methods (2003)
BSc Sociology and Social Policy (2001)
Research group links
Catherine’s research interests focus on the relationships between public, private, and state actors within the area of environmental sustainability. At a general level her work examines the actions and perspectives of actors within these different spheres and looks at the interactions between them. She has particular interests in the ways that governmental technologies and processes work to shape, shift and sustain specific forms of practice with implications for sustainability.
Evaluating Health Impacts of Climate Adaptation Strategies (Wellcome Trust funded 2019-2022 Role: Co-I)
This project aims to develop a new evaluative tool for assessing the impacts of climate adaptations on communities with particular focus on incorporating health and wellbeing effects of interventions. The evaluation tool is being developed through cross-disciplinary interactions on challenges, concepts and methods, and calibrated through empirical study of existing adaptations, focused on flooding. Three types of adaptation intervention are being examined through the project across different geographic contexts: Engineering (infrastructural flood defences), Withdrawing (planned relocation), and Resilience (living with floods) within Ireland, Ghana, and England respectively. The project will undertake research to evaluate the implications of these interventions for health and wellbeing and use this to develop the tool with stakeholders in each case location. The project will generate lessons for flood adaptation processes, providing a basis for improving approaches in future.
Experimenting with data-driven approaches to well-being in off-grid informal urban settings (British Academy-GCRF funded, 2019-2021 Role: Co-I)
The project researches the link between wellbeing and the provision of renewable, off-grid energy in informal
settlements in South Africa. It will provide detailed, qualitative and quantitative data on off-grid energy
provision impacts on wellbeing in the poorest South African households. Data will be sourced using innovative, app-based digital methodologies, interviews and other qualitative methods. The project unites engineers and social scientists through the main project activity: an intervention to bring solar home systems and a minigrid to a small informal settlement in Cape Town that has not been electrified. The project aims to speak to South African policy and private sector audiences and to the broader sub-Saharan African challenge of wellbeing and energy in informal settlements. The project is in collaboration with local NGO and private sector partners, as well as with the University of Cape Town.
Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction (EPSRC funded 2015 - 2019 Role: PI)
This project is linked to the DEMAND centre based at Lancaster University and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It aims to develop capacities for policy innovation in the area of energy demand reduction by looking at the impact of non-energy policy on social practices and explicating the implications for energy usage. The research uses the policy area of welfare and employment as a case because it includes goals that have implications in terms of increasing energy demand (e.g. economic growth), reproducing particular temporal patterns of demand (e.g. through employment policies), and reducing demand (e.g. across welfare policies such as for housing). It further represents a critical policy area for examining tensions that are likely to arise between the attainment of energy demand reduction goals and other important societal aims, such as social justice and poverty reduction. This research will provide a critical understanding of the challenges and innovative possibilities for welfare and employment policy to contribute to the UK’s ambitions to reduce energy usage in line with legally binding carbon targets.
The 2013/14 Winter Floods and Policy Change: The dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises (ESRC funded 2014–2015 Role: PI)
The research is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and explores the importance of the early periods following major flood crises for determining longer-term responses to relevant national policy issues. A significant body of research argues that the way problems are framed has major implications for the responses that are put forward and ultimately pursued. It is argued that crises create relatively brief windows of opportunity during which reframing happens through the influence of individuals and institutional actors, including policy, industry, NGOs and media. The project examines the dynamic and evolving context of solution and problem framing in the year following the floods that occurred over the winter of 2013/14. The research focuses on the Somerset Levels and Moors as a case study to examine how the flooding event has influenced the perceptions of both stakeholders and members of the public in ways that either support or hinder processes of long-term flood risk management (FRM). The project will aim to inform policy and contribute to the development of robust, long-term responses to floods that are attuned to the values and perspectives of the different people affected.
Individual and Community Resilience to Flooding (NIHR funded 2014 – 2019 Role: Co-I)
This study forms part of a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) on Environmental Change and Health led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This research examines the connections between resilience and wellbeing in post-flood recovery contexts focusing on areas that have been severely affected by flooding. It aims to build understanding of the relationship between resilience, and recovery and response processes at both individual and community levels. The study investigates the determinants of resilience in order to provide evidence for the development of measures to maintain or enhance community resilience in flood risk areas.
Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction (ESRC funded 2011- 2014 Role: Co-I)
This research was funded by the ESRC under the ‘Energy and Communities collaborative venture’ as part of Research Council UK's (RCUK) Energy Programme. The project breaks new research ground by using innovative qualitative methods (longitudinal work, sensory methods) combined with a conceptual approach which examines people’s energy consuming practices as dynamic biographical processes: that is, as emergent, contingent, and unfolding in and through space and time. The project builds from the established understanding that people do not use energy, but rather the services made possible by energy and adopts a holistic approach which brings into view the formation, embeddedness and development of energy practices as part of everyday life and the life-course. The term “energy biographies” represents the project’s approach, which opens up possibilities for developing understanding of how significant reductions in energy use can be achieved through identifying openings for change in energy intensive life-course trajectories. For more information see: www.energybiographies.org
Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability (UKERC/NERC funded 2011-2014 Role: Co-I)
This interdisciplinary project is part of the wider research agenda being developed through the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC). The core aim of the project is to develop a deeper understanding of public perspectives on UK energy system transitions in order to inform the policymaking process. The project used a range of methods and techniques both qualitative and quantitative to build understanding of how members of the UK public(s) view whole energy system change. Three major reports have been published through UKERC see: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/Transforming+the+UK+Energy+System
Flood Advocacy & Support Service for Communities in Wales (Welsh Government funded 2012 Role Co-I)
This project examined the possibilities for a flood support service for communities within Wales. The research involved: 1) an extensive review of literature to draw out key factors that influence what the impact of floods is on people and communities, and elements, models and landscapes of support for communities affected by flooding; 2) stakeholder interviews; 3) community interviews; and 4) two workshops which brought different stakeholders together to debate the problems and possibilities for flood support services within Wales. The final project report was published on the WG website: http://wales.gov.uk/topics/environmentcountryside/epq/flooding/studies/advocacyandsupport/?lang=en
Interdisciplinary Cluster on Energy Systems, Equity and Vulnerability (RCUK funded 2009-2011 Role: Work Package Lead)
The InCLuSEV cluster focused on the uneven production and experience of energy vulnerabilities, and the likely consequences of emerging low carbon energy systems for the changing nature and distribution of equity across time and space. The aims of the cluster were to develop research collaboration, build capacity to address science challenges, and formulate and disseminate relevant policy outputs. As part of InCluESEV, I co-convened (with Peter Simmons) the working package on ‘whole system equity analysis of new nuclear generation capacity’. The project published a book in 2013 to which we contributed a chapter on nuclear energy and justice in the UK; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Energy-Justice-Changing-Climate-Sustainabilities/dp/1780325762
Energy Choices and Climate Change (Leverhulme Trust funded 2007-2011 Role: Researcher)
This project examined contemporary framing(s) of energy issues and their relation to climate change. The primary research questions arising were: what are the dominant science-policy discourses and frames for understanding the energy debate? What are the processes by which such frames come to influence attitudes and behaviour? How are public(s) understanding, conceptualising and responding to the new and emerging spectrum of framings of energy policy? To what extent does proximity modify the way that energy issues and dominant frames are interpreted by people? To what extent do people recognise, value and make trade-offs between alternative visions for energy futures? The project was funded by the Leverhulme trust and was a collaborative study involving academics from within Cardiff University, the University of East Anglia and Sheffield University. I worked in developing several studies within this project including a qualitative locality based study examining public perspectives on energy systems and the connections they made between their lived experiences of energy use, processes of energy production and related issues (e.g. climate change, transitions to low carbon energy systems); a study examining the views of members of the public affected by the UK’s 2007 floods on climate change, flood governance, and related issues; a national piece of qualitative research examining public views on energy systems and climate change.
Flooding as a Form of Risk: An Examination of Knowledge in Practice (ESRC funded 2003-2007 Role: Doctoral Thesis)
This research entailed examination of the contemporary understanding of the issue of flooding in the UK, as well as the present approaches to tackling the concern. The contextualisation of flooding as a climate change impact was found to represent a significant shift in the societal representation of flooding as a social problem but with more limited consequences for the approaches adopted to flood mitigation. Though existing approaches to tackling flooding were unsettled in light of knowledge about climate change, techniques for managing floods continued to be dominated by risk assessment and more conventional flood defence technologies. This was an ESRC funded doctoral study conducted at Cardiff University and supervised by Professor Barbara Adam and Dr Ian Welsh.
British Academy-GCRF ‘Experimenting with data-driven approaches to well-being in off-grid informal urban settings’ (Butler co-I with Caprotti F, de Groot J, Moorlach M, Pillay K, Mathebula N.) 2019-2021 £297,751
Wellcome Trust ‘Evaluating Health Impacts of Climate Adaptation Strategies’ (Butler co-I with Adger, N. Smith, R. Quinn, T. Murphy, C. Codjoe, S. Morrissey, K.) 2019 - 2022 £489,850.00
ESRC Impact Acceleration Award ‘Rethinking Energy Demand: Co-creating strategies to transform Local Government energy demand’ (Bickerstaff, K. Butler, C.) £20000
ESRC Impact Acceleration Award ‘The Many Faces of Flooding’ (Butler, C. O’Neill, S., Walker-Springett, K., Evans, L. and Adger, N.) £3000
EPSRC ‘Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction’ (Butler Principle Investigator with Bickerstaff, K. Parkhill, K. and Walker, G.) Dec 2014 - Dec 2017 EP/M008150/1 £299,961
ESRC ‘The 2013/14 Winter Floods and Policy Change: The dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises’ (Butler Principle Investigator with Adger, N., O’Neill, S. and Evans, L.) June 2014 – May 2015 ES/M006867/1 £199,974
University of Exeter Humanities and Social Science Research Strategy Development Funds ‘Social determinants of public perceptions of climate change adaptation: secondary analysis and networking’, March 2014 - Dec 2014 £7860
Welsh Government ‘Flood Advocacy & Support Service for Communities in Wales’ (with Darnton, K, Darnton, A., Elster-Jones, J. and Whitmarsh, L.) April 2012 – Sept 2012 £33141
British Sociological Association Professional Development Award Funds awarded to facilitate organising role in international conference March 2012 £400
ESRC ‘Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction’ (with Parkhill, K. Henwood, K., and Pidgeon, N.) July 2011 - Sept 2014 RES-628-25-0028 £800,000 (FEC)
NERC ‘Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability Public’ (with Pidgeon, N., Jenkins, N., Pearson, P., Spence, A., Parkhill, K. and Whitmarsh, L.) Jan 2011 – April 2014 PS1075-EESC-UKERC £585934.32 (FEC)
Cardiff University RGS ‘Interdisciplinary Seminar Series on Energy and Sustainability’ (with Groves, C.) Jan 2010- Jan 2011 £1000
ESRC ‘Flooding as a Form of Risk: An Examination of Knowledge in Practice’ (with Adam, B. and Welsh, I.) Doctoral Studentship Oct 2003 – Oct 2006 PTA-030-2002-00281 £37000
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Catherine is convenor of the British Sociological Association Climate Change Study Group. She is Committee member of Royal Geographical Society Energy Geographies Research Group and a founding member the European Sociological Association Energy and Society Research Network. She values engagement with stakeholders and embeds a central concern with creating positive impact in all her research.
Her work has attracted media coverage in several news outlets including: The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, BBC news online, the Today programme, Reuters, E&T, and Sky News.
My teaching interests are in the social and political dimensions of environmental sustainability, research methods, and social theory. I convene GEO1310 Geographies of Environment and Sustainability, GEO2131 Nature, Development and Justice, and GEOM145 Theory for Sustainable Transitions. I am passionate about interdisciplinary research-led teaching that supports the development of abilities for independent learning and innovative thinking about social geographical issues.
Supervision / Group
- Jake Barnes
- Paulina Luzecka
- Kate Walker-Springett
- Emma Bailey
- Sophia Buchanan Barlow
- Basia Cieszewska
- Nayani Ghoshal
- Helena Hastie
- Sylvia Hayes
- Joshua Lait
- Cormac Lynch
- Celia Robbins
- Arie Yanwar Kapriadi