Power to the People? How an energy company’s strategic texts constitute the company-consumer interface working against collective action
This paper presents an instructive case study showing how strategic communication designed to achieve European Union directives regarding energy saving plays out in practice. The two-year qualitative study examined the impact of a French energy supply company’s strategic practices. These practices were designed to transform not only the way consumers think about energy but also their consumption practices and how they made sense of these practices. Paradoxically, the texts that the supply company exchanged with customers, as their primary form of strategic practice, acted in ways that blocked the achievement of their strategic intent. The texts exhibited alternative forms of agency that (re)constituted the company-customer interface. In revealing this outcome, the paper contributes to a scant literature on the performance of mundane strategic tools, offering a unique example of an “ideological fantasy of ‘empowerment’” (Wright, 2012) that was not realized in practice. The findings provide a warning, in this case to energy suppliers, that strategic texts have unintended and independent agency in the collaborative process of negotiating customers’ understanding of energy and consumption options.
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