Climate change is possibly the most challenging environmental problem of the 21st century. This project aims to analyse the textually-constructed meanings that are attached to climate change by different social actors in a variety of arenas and to draw bridges between the meanings that circulate in the public sphere(s) and citizens’ perception of the issue. Understanding the relation between mediated discourses and social representations of the science and politics of climate change in Portugal is therefore our main goal.
A critical understanding of the social construction of climate change requires, in the first place, an analysis of the discourse of relevant social actors. By advancing particular readings of the issue, politicians, scientists, corporations and activists suggest particular forms of thinking and acting on the problem.
The media play a crucial role in amplifying given discourses and suppressing others. While news organs sustain certain forms of dealing with climate change they also annihilate the space for debating alternative courses of action. We aim to identify the conditions of intelligibility of climate change that are dominant in the media and link them to particular action possibilities. We also intend to understand the conditions for resistance and contestation to mainstream discourses.
People’s perception of climate change is likely to be influenced by the media’s (re)construction of the problem. An important purpose of this project will be to study social representations of the issue and understand the ways in which these are linked to media discourses.
We will pay particular attention to two main themes. Firstly, representations of risk, which are connected to knowledge of the issue, are a foundation for thinking and acting on the issue. Quantitative research has indicated that the public in Portugal had high levels of concern in relation to global warming and were likely to see it as potentially harmful about a decade ago. We will attempt to evaluate present views of social actors, media and citizens with both quantitative and qualitative tools.
Secondly, attitudes and behaviours towards addressing climate change are linked to representations of responsibility: Who is responsible (the government, corporations, individuals) for solving - or at least minimizing - the problem? What should the distribution of responsibility be amongst the various contributors to the problem? We should note that other important representations are embedded in views of risk and responsibility.
We anticipate that three issues will be specially relevant: trust with regard to scientists and policy-makers; the social value of equity (inter-national, inter-generational, inter-class); and people’s sense of agency in relation to causation and mitigation of climate change and in relation to the very societal decision-making process. We will aim to evaluate the significance of these ideas in a variety of discourses and representations.
The Politics of Climate Change: Discourses and Representations
Project funded by Fundação para a Ciência e para a Tecnologia (2005-2008)