A pinboard by
Anna Firsova

Climate discourses and related political and social change were the topics of my PhD thesis


Words shaping the politics and politics shaping the words: discourses and climate change

In 10 seconds? We know that the politicians produce words that affect us, for example, in the form of laws and regulations, but the words produced by other players, in their turn, shape politics through the politicians, and sometimes these migrating words ultimately have negative economic or environmental impacts.

How can we understand this process? To formalise the interactions between the words and social change, researchers deal with the words, phrases and conversations under the name of discourses or narratives. To analyse them, researchers apply formal methods which can be both quantitative - such as counting number of themes or keywords in the text - and qualitative - such as critical discourse analysis. These methods can be applied to virtually any text or verbal communication, political speeches or everyday talks, and may help to unveil the migration of discourses and their impact on different spheres of life.

So, how do these discourses migrate? For example, in carbon-intensive or fossil fuel export-dependant nations such as Australia, USA and Russia there are very influential forces which oppose compulsory greenhouse gas emission reductions. They include fuel industry and coal producers. These players often do not openly oppose climate actions, but instead use the discourses of 'clean coal', 'voluntary climate actions' and 'foremost importance of economic development'. Then the politicians adopt these discourses in their speeches and documents and use for political bargaining during the negotiations of international climate agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement to get generous carbon reduction quotas or delay entry into force of the treaties.

Is this particular situation good for economic development and environment? Probably not. Delaying climate action gives further rise to average Earth temperatures and hinders the development of new technologies.

What can we do about it? Discourses, narratives and the corresponding connotations change, and it is crucial to see what kind of interested parties stand behind the words. Next time do not be fooled with beautiful discourses of ‘clean coal’ and ‘voluntary climate actions’.

by Anna Firsova


Narratives in climate change discourse

Abstract: ‘Stories’ used to communicate climate change knowledge shape opinions and preferences, and analyzing such narratives can help explain how they are constructed and how they influence us on personal and societal scales. The narrative perspective makes it possible to identify the presence or absence of typical components in a ‘story,’ such as initial situation, complication, reaction(s), resolution, and final situation, and to identify different actors or narrative characters (heroes, villains, victims). This article reviews the notions of narratives and frames, describes narrative analysis generally and more specifically how a text linguistic perspective can benefit from and contribute to the Narrative Policy Framework in narrative analysis. It illustrates how different approaches can be applied as analytical tools to explore the effects of conflicting narratives (frames) on public opinion of and attitudes towards climate change. Applied to various text genres, the analysis identifies different components of the ‘stories,’ at overarching levels of the text as a whole and at microlevels such as sentences. This may have rhetorical implications, as controversial points of view can be hidden from critical assessment through the condensation of narrative components into short expressions. When exposed to conflicting ‘stories,’ people get a diverse picture of climate change, a diversity which may, however, also lead to confusion about how to react. Concerning the narrative characters, recent research indicates that a clear hero role has a large persuasive impact. More experiments testing how people interpret various narratives should be undertaken in an interdisciplinary perspective, combining social science, and linguistic approaches.For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Pub.: 01 Aug '16, Pinned: 22 Apr '17