9 - Two theories of home heat control  pp. 222-242

Two theories of home heat control

By Willett Kempton

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Human beings strive to connect related phenomena and make sense of the world. In so doing, they create what I call folk theory. The word folk signifies both that these theories are shared by a social group and that they are acquired from everyday experience or social interaction. To call them theories is to assert that they use abstractions that apply to many analogous situations, enable predictions, and guide behavior. I contrast folk theories with institutionalized theories, which are used by specialists and acquired from scientific literature or controlled experiments. Thus, a folk theory is one type of cultural model.

This chapter analyzes folk theories for home heating control, particularly thermostat control. From interviews with Michigan residents, folk theories were inferred using methods developed by Lakoff and Johnson (1980; also see Lakoff & Kövecses this volume) and Quinn (1982; this volume). The inferred folk theories were compared with behavior guided by the theory, using both observed behavior and self-reported behavior. The interviews also elicited lists of devices analogous to thermostats and a history of use in present and past residences.

The concept of folk theory

Anthropological interest in folk theory has germinated over the past few years in the form of two recent volumes (Dougherty 1985; Marsella & White 1982) and the conference leading to the present volume.