HEAT, COMFORT AND WELL-BEING IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: LEARNING FROM COOLING PRACTICES IN MALAYSIAN HOUSEHOLDS

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Mohd Tarmizi Mohd Amin

Abstract

Deadly heatwaves are becoming more common due to climate change while heat-related morbidity is on the rise. Simultaneously, the need to curtail increases in domestic energy consumption during periods of hot weather has been challenging and the battleground is, in fact, against the use of air conditioning – known to be ‘notoriously' energy-intensive, yet positioned as a protective device against heatwaves. The goal of this study is to continue reviewing the above paradigms and discussing the relevance of bringing the latter towards the context of tropical countries. As shown throughout the thesis, Malaysia is an interesting case study where comfort was once (and is still for some) achieved without cooling the air inside the home and well-being is fulfilled under the heat. As these meanings and constructs have gradually fallen in and out of favour, it is thus the goal of this study to push the latter approach in Malaysian households, which provides, I argue, a much-needed framework for exploring a socio-contextual underlying vulnerability to heat in the home among vulnerable groups of the population and to revive adaptation capacities from the past, to create future cooling practices that mimic traditional practices - a lesson to be learnt from a tropical country like Malaysia. Drawing on the conceptual framework of everyday social practices, this will facilitate a better understanding of cooling practices in the home and mediate changes in practices to foster more, rather than less, sustainable ways for comfort and well-being in the local context. Methodologically, ethnographic interviews were conducted with households living with and without air conditioning. Adding depth to the information gathered, house tours were undertaken, households’ self-reporting comfort diaries included and temperature measurement taken as additional data gathering tools. The analysed data is reported in three sets of findings. First, the use of air conditioning proves to be a more systemic emergence of modern cooling practices ‘scripted’ by how housing infrastructures were built, as well as the embodiment of standardised comfort values and skills that further entrench air conditioning as an instant and, sometimes, only way to gain comfort in the home. Such trajectories have been widely argued to be against the culture of keeping cool in the tropics, thus the second set of findings revisited ‘traditional cooling practices’ and explored their persistence in Malaysian households, beyond solely focusing on vernacular housing architecture that leaves us blind to other facets of the equation. Employing a social practice framework towards tradition-based cooling practices is a novel approach and, this study argues, necessarily complicates the matter and highlights the holistic make-up of such practices.The third set of findings address the final aims of the study; foregrounding the socio-contextual construction of vulnerability to heat in households’ everyday lives and to point to those ‘entanglements' between elements in everyday living by which traditional cooling practices remain stable and create pathways of adaptation based on the ‘re-emergence’ of ‘non-air-conditioning’ from the past. The study argues such a turn is timely as currently in Malaysia non-air-conditioning is commonplace for the majority of households. Thereby bringing a nuanced understanding and preserving culturally-sensitive traditional cooling practices as a blueprint to future cooling practices against a changing climate.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date6 Jan 2021