Word in edgeways: a creative pluralisation of climate change narratives

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Geography


Narratives about climate change - whether in news and media, disaster relief planning, government policy, fiction, art, legal proceedings, protest or personal anecdote - form and inform the way in which climate change is perceived and acted on across society (Lowe et al., 2006; Dryzek, 2022). The tone, content and provenance of these past and present-focused narratives influence the actions of the future (Urry, 2016). It is therefore essential that climate change narratives are as inclusive, diverse and progressive as possible, to ensure ecological and social justice for generations to come.

Research in the last decade has shown that current climate change narratives are insufficiently representative of a global experience (Hulme, 2011). Climate change discourse is dominated by vocabularies, arcs and terminologies belonging to a reductionist, political paradigm that limits our ability to imagine and describe unstable futures (ibid). This paradigm perpetuates dichotomies of dominant (global North) and dominated (global South) societies (Blicharska et al., 2017). The emphasis is on linear narrative arcs, aligned with either liberal consumerist optimism (Soper, 2020) or catastrophic pessimism (Urry, 2016). These paradigms are also grounded in anthropocentric perspectives, which separate humanity from nature and nature from itself (Latour, 1993), and often, arguably, cleave to a Biblical narrative, where the ending is apocalyptic and deliverance comes in the form of a hero or a single solution, which in the context of climate change is increasingly linked to technology and largescale geoengineering solutions (Beck, 2019; Hulme, 2019). As a result, the mainstream forms of climate narrative available in the global North compartmentalise, reduce and marginalise the unequal environmental and social impact of extreme climate change, limiting individual and community agency in acute disaster response, as well as narrowing global decision making in the context of future uncertainty (Sou, 2019). In addition, climate communication research is still dominated by European, Antipodean or US-based studies (Moser, 2016).

This PhD project intends to unsettle and pluralise hegemonic climate change narratives with stories from beyond the dominant body. It aims to make visible, audible and legible under-represented narratives of broader possibility, optimism and global and cultural relevance. Research will be specifically focused on stories and storytelling techniques from under-heard cultures and communities, in order to generate alternatives to current climate change narratives, in alignment with broader decolonisation objectives. The research would be conducted in collaboration with two registered charities, Eden Project (with a focus on its international outreach activities) and AimHi Earth, an organisation facilitating environmental education and empowerment broadcasting across 150 countries.

The research will build upon established participatory methods, using storytelling workshops (Harcourt, 2021). The first year of study will be dedicated to developing a format and structure to the workshops, which will be carried out in the second year and then thematically analysed during the third. The aim is to build a body of underrepresented perspectives, stories, testimonies and creative expressions relating to first-hand climate change accounts, adaptation/resilience responses, post-disaster rationalisation and future projections, which will ultimately inform new ways of constructing future-facing climate change narratives. The responses to these workshops, such as climate change interpretations and explanations specific to what individual communities consider important (Smith et al., 2017), or visions of possible climate futures (Mackay, 2016) will represent a collaboratively developed set of descriptive tools to politicise, pluralise and diversify climate change discourse.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2719786 Studentship ES/P000630/1 30/09/2022 29/09/2026 Polly Gregson