First of all I would like to thank the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and my supervisors, Prof. Jill Atkins and Dr. Robert McKay for their support and encouragement. I would also like to thank Lise-Lotte Holmgreen and the team for organising this excellent event.
As always in my conference reports, I include an ongoing evaluation of sustainability, both of my own and the conference’s. Although I do agree that sustainability and the mitigation of climate change is not solely up to the individual, we must take responsibility of our own actions as far as we can help it. For my own sustainability, with my reusable coffee cup and water bottle, taking the train down to the airport and opting for a direct flight to Aalborg, I felt pretty good about my efforts at keeping my carbon footprint as low as possible and within my yearly carbon/plastic budget.
However, getting on the plane, I was saddened and shocked to see my flight virtually empty. There are three direct flights into Aalborg per day and this dawn-early flights is probably the least attractive. I would like to use this platform to urge Norwegian Air to reconsider operating flights that are less than 80 per cent full.
Arriving in sunny, blue-skied Aalborg, dissipated my outrage a little when taking the bus from the airport, the beautiful city unfolding. I took a long walk around the city, walking the cobbled streets and soaking in the sounds of the language. Walking by the fjord, I noticed very cool and interesting jelly fish! If anyone knows what kind they are, please let me know – I love jelly fish!
180 delegates gathered here in Aalborg to discuss various problematic discourses of ecological disasters, mass extinction, climate change, immigration, politics and economic crisis, paving the way to alternative discourses that can create new discourses that can challenge these dominant ones. As the pro-rector emphasised in her welcome speech, language is not innocent and reflects the way we communicate our world, creating images in our minds.
After welcoming from Pro-rector Inger Askehave, Prof. Chris Hart and conference chair Lise-Lotte Holmgreen, I am very happy to see the first keynote from Anabela Carvalho addresses and speaks of the most urgent matters of our times – the socio-ecological crisis: Climate, Discourse and (Post-)Politics: Critical Approaches to the Socio-Ecological Crisis. In the last few decades the impact of human activity has been unprecedented and part of the challenge is what Carvalho claims is the process of depoliticisation of climate change.
In 1988 Jim Hansen recognised the direct relationship between GHGs and global warming. Climate change has also become an economic matter in terms of energy generation. However, despite promises by governents to mitigate climate change, carbon emissions keep rising. Climate change is riddled with injustices, they are serious inter-generational injustices
What do we mean by de-politicisation?
Depoliticisation is about the contingency of social reality, silencing alternative views.The main research questions Carvalho is attempting to answer is how the meaning of climate change evolved towards a post-political condition. Which discursive processes and strategies contribute to depoliticisation of climate change?
First of all, she looks at the hegemony of the notion of sustainable development, which at its roots evolved from sustainable yield forestry in the US in early 20th century. This was followed by the WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) in 1987 that introduced environmental protection, economic development and social justice. The rise of ‘green economy’, acting on environmental problems can, and is hijacked, to create economic growth. The notion of infinite growth is, of course, not possible on a finite planet with finite ‘resources’. Counter discourses to this arose in the form of degrowth and steady state economy.
Of course, many studies point to the ambiguity and polysemy of this notion of sustainability or ‘semantic plasticity’ (Kreig), and I talk about it also in my paper presentation.
Another problematic notion is that of the process of carbonification, the reduction of all the problematic structures and practices at the root of climate change to one substance. This is a problem because it makes all emissions comparable, even though some may be more persistent, more toxic, etc. Of course, the commodification of CO2 and emissions trading framed as an economic risk, renders climate change as an economized, traded entity.
Another aspect of depoliticsation of climate change is through consensus politics. International organisations such as the WTO and IMF and The World Bank claim to embark on climate protection while remaining silent about their role in causing the problem.
In the public sphere, media practices naturalise the techno-managerial discourses in many countries. They promise technological solutions that will sort out climate change. In this way we can ‘get rid’ of climate change through policy and technocratic solutions, another problem I touch on in my own paper.
The post-political condition of climate change in which multiple discursive processes and strategies have turned climate change into a technical matter that can be managed, obscured the historical and structural causes that brought it about. The report by UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) 2016 policy says that climate change should undergo transormative change in social structures. This means that climate change is seen to be primarily a social/cultural problem.
There is an obscuring of responsibility in the discourse of climate change. There is a diffusion of responsibility where ‘we’, humanity, are responsible. This further brings climate change out of the political when it advocates a micro-individual action as the main solution.
Can climate change be re-politicised?
Carvalho claims that Energy Democracy is the most promising solution because it politicizes the field of energy to a significant degree. It promotes a vision of the future that is relatively disclosed but as she says does not “foreground some of the tensions and choices on the environment and sustainability”. However, it does construct transformative subject positions, but also reproduces neoliberal subject positions such as investors and considerably conflicting self-positioning face-to-face meetings.
We had our coffee break that carried on the message of sustainability! Fruit, plates, glasses and reusable containers. Soy milk was promptly added on my (I hope not pesky) request!
For my first chosen strand, Bernhard Forchtner Critical perspectuves on CDA.
The first session is by Amelie Kutter, talking about analysing crisis discourses: theories and strategies. Crisis, or crises we are currently living have been widely studies in CDA, financial crisis, reconstruction of crisis debate and their mainstreaming, rpresentation of crisis, for example the linguistic construction of crisis by Wengeler et al 2013.
But crisis as such is taken for granted and the constitutive role of discourse practices are taken as a given. Kutter problematizes the Eurozone crisis 2010-2012.
This closely ties in with my project on extinction as a crisis. We talk about extinction, or mass extinction as a crisis. According to Michel Krzyzanowski, in an interview he once did, defining an action or event as a crisis, awards it validity, as Krzyzanowski claims: “If one identifies a certain action, practice, event or occurrence as a crisis, what happens is that it provides an excuse, it becomes legitimate to take special measures, and to undertake actions which otherwise would not have the necessary validity and which would not gain public support”. Although the example he uses is of the refugee crisis, in which governments were able to gain support for turning away immigrants, this notion can be applied to extinction, where animals become refugees being forcibly turned out of their homes. Recontextualising an event is an act of preparing the ground for actions to come. The plight of animals which is most often ignored and remains unheard,
is given legitimacy.
After lunch I joined the panel titled Discourse, Space and Evaluation across Disciplines and Domains. The first talk was a fascinating one, very close to my heart and my MA dissertation, by Josie Ryan whose PhD examines National Identity and Discourse Space. The concept of national identity is being deployed in political discourse. Identity is very closely related to ideology: “Ideologies and identities are “reflected, re-enacted, negotiated, modified, reproduced etc. must involve […] studying the original positioning of the different ideologies and identities [..] handling issues of the conceptual arrangemet of the discourse space” Cap (2017:207). Josie is particularly interested in how CODA (cognitive discourse analysis) can be used to analyse how language is used to describe national identity.
Space and Evaluation in Image and Language: An Experimental Study on the Effects of Point of View in Media Discourse on Political Protest by Chris Hart
This is a new research reflects an experimental turn. The study is motivated by previous research which found differences in use of verb choices for left and right wing press when reporting violence at political protests. Right wing press was found to use more transitive verbs and left wing newspapers preferred more reciprocal verbs e.g. police clashed with protesters.
From a CODA perspective in CDS, these constructions are analysed as encoding image-schematic representations construed from contrasting points of view. (Hart 2016). Transitive verbs encode an image of interaction in a single-direction. In Kress and van Leeuwen, for example this is the notion of offer-demand. This is a hypothesis is so far, just a hypothesis. In his research, Hart attempts to carry out experiments to prove these.
The study shows the utility of combining cognitive linguistics and multimodal semiotic frameworks in critical analyses of language. The experiments demonstrate that the same ideological effects arise from language usages and images which are congruent.
The keynote at the end of the day is given by Martin Reisigl on the Normative standards for CDA: a Discourse-Historical Model. Reisigl examines Austrian newspaper reports on migration and asylum. There are conflicting discourses between individualism and collectivism, cosmopolitanism and nationalism and regionalism, state versus religion and this leads to language policy, language teaching media, language teaching separation and of course, human rights.
In the newspapers, Reisigl demonstrates there are strategies of discrimination and exclusion of refugees. They are not given a voice and they are backgrounded and collectivised. The readers are not presented with the refugees experiences. Linguistically, refugees are referred to through numbers, negative evaluation, and framed as dangerous.
Going back to my short analysis of the Danish new linguistic law I discussed in my previous post, Reisigl touches on the importance of critical discourse analysts making journalists aware of the discourses and over-representation of the topic of refugees and the ensuing discrimination. Raising awareness and criticising racism and xenophobia and developing a more holistic approach to critique.
Reisigl concludes that CDS should even more strongly engage in criticizing ongoing public discourses about refugees and migrants. For CDS, a more holistic model of deliberative argumentation in order to overcome the separation of emotion and reason.
After Martin’s brilliant talk, we were invited to attend a reception in the beautiful Aalborg art museum and had the opportunity to see the works of Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen who creates installations by recycling secondhand clothing.
Tomorrow is another day packed-full with fascinating talks – one of which is mine! Stay tuned 🙂
A politicising discourse is explicit about positions along relevant political-ideological faultlines (Maeseele & Pepermans, 2017). How transformative are the subject positions offered to citizens?
I would like to thank Lise-Lotte Holmgreen and the team for organising this excellent event.