Whose everyday climate cultures? Environmental subjectivities and invisibility in climate change discourse

Abstract

Public climate conversations are inattentive to how differences in social location and culture shape people’s knowledge of and responses to climate change. Instead, emphases on climate apathy and climate skepticism overrepresent privileged sensibilities, marginalizing those who fall outside of what Black feminist theorist Audre Lorde calls “the mythical norm” (1987). In so doing, predominant approaches obscure forms of climate engagement that do not resemble researcher identified pro-environmental behaviors. In order to illustrate relationships between social location, culture, and response to climate change, we apply the notion of environmental subjectivities in a secondary analysis of climate engagement in two communities, one of which resembles and one of which lies outside the “mythical” norm. Both members of the Karuk Tribe and urban homesteaders frame climate change as symptoms of unsustainable political-economic structures. Yet differences in the structural location of each community result in divergent understandings of and practices in relation to the changing climate. These divergent community understandings and practices cannot be explained by individual preferences or cultural differences alone. Instead, the concept of environmental subjectivities (1) calls attention to the situated knowledges of climate change that emerge in relation to differences of indigeneity, race, and class, (2) relates community environmental practices to interlocking power structures, and (3) illustrates how elite narratives obscure the role of the colonial, settler, capitalist state in the generation of climate emissions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    By resources, we mean both material (things like money, property, and access to water, food, etc.) and nonmaterial resources (such as education, social, cultural and emotional capital, political power, etc.), modeled after Sewell’s use of the term in A Theory of Structure (1992).

  2. 2.

    For a cautionary note on the way analysts might potentially fail to integrate the psycho and the social, see Wetherell (2008).

  3. 3.

    For a discussion of the psychoanalytic elements of environmental subjectivity, see Lertzman (2013).

References

  1. Acker J (1990) Hierarchies, jobs, bodies: a theory of gendered organizations. Gend Soc 4(2):139–158

    Google Scholar 

  2. Agrawal A (2005) Environmentality Community, Intimate Government, and the Making of Environmental Subjects in Kumaon, India. Current Anthropology. 46(2):161–190

    Google Scholar 

  3. Arvin M, Tuck E, Morrill A (2013) Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy. Feminist Formations 25(1):8–34

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bacon JM (2019) Settler colonialism as eco-social structure and the production of colonial ecological violence. Environmental Sociology 5(1):59–69

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bamberg S, Möser G (2007) Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: a new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of pro-environmental behaviour. J Environ Psychol 27(1):14–25

    Google Scholar 

  6. Beck U (1992) In: Ritter M (ed) Risk society: towards a new modernity. Vol. 2. Sage, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bellah RN, Swidler A, Madsen R, Tipton SM, Sullivan WM (1996) Habits of the heart : individualism and commitment in American life, 2nd edn. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bennett T Bull M, Maynard NG, Cochran P, Gough R, Lynn K, Maldonado J, Voggesser G, Wotkyns S, Cozzetto K (2014) Ch. 12: Indigenous peoples, lands, and resources. In: Melillo JM, Richmond T, Yohe GW (eds) Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, US Global Change Research Program, Pp 297–317

  9. Blake J (1999) Overcoming the ‘value-action gap’ in environmental policy: tensions between National Policy and local experience. Local Environ 4(3):257–278

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bolsen T, Druckman JN, Cook FL (2015) Citizens’, scientists’, and policy advisors’ beliefs about global warming. Ann Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 658(1):271–295

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bolsen T, Kingsland J, Palm R (2018) The impact of frames highlighting coastal flooding in the USA on climate change beliefs. Climatic Change 147:359–368

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bonilla-Silva E (2014) Racism without a racists: color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States, 4th edn. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bourdieu P (1987) Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Translated. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  14. Bureau, United States Census (2018) “Oregon.” Quick Facts. Retrieved (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/OR). Accessed 26 June 2019

  15. Capstick S, Whitmarsh L, Poortinga W, Pidgeon N, Upham P (2015) International trends in public perceptions of climate change over the past quarter century. WIREs Clim Chang 6:35–61

    Google Scholar 

  16. Chapin M (2004) A challenge to conservationists. World Watch:17–31

  17. Clements JM, McCright AM, Dietz T, Marquart-Pyatt ST (2015) A behavioural measure of environmental decision-making for social surveys. Environ Sociol 1(1):27–37

    Google Scholar 

  18. Collins PH (1989) The social construction of black feminist thought. Signs J Women Cult Soc 14(4):745–773

    Google Scholar 

  19. Collins PH (2009) Black feminist thought. Routledge, New York

    Google Scholar 

  20. Crenshaw K (1991) Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanf Law Rev 43(6):1241–1299

    Google Scholar 

  21. Di Chiro G (1996) Nature as community: the convergence of environmental and social justice. In Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, Pp 298–320

  22. Dietz T (2013) Bringing values and deliberation to science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(Supplement_3):14081–14087

    Google Scholar 

  23. Druckman JN (2015) Communicating policy-relevant science. PS: Political Science & Politics 48(S1):58–69

    Google Scholar 

  24. Dunbar-Ortiz R (2018) Loaded: a disarming history of the second amendment. City Lights Publisher, San Francisco

    Google Scholar 

  25. Eliasoph N (1997) ‘Close to home’: the work of avoiding politics. Theory Soc 26(5):605–647

    Google Scholar 

  26. Fisher DR, Leifeld P, Iwaki Y (2013) Mapping the ideological networks of American climate politics. Clim Chang 116(3–4):523–545

    Google Scholar 

  27. Ford A (2019) The Self-sufficient Citizen: Ecological Habitus and Changing Environmental Practices. Sociological Perspectives 62(5):627–645

    Google Scholar 

  28. Ford A, Norgaard KM (2019) From denial to resistance: how emotions and culture shape our responses to climate change. In: Feola G, Geoghegan H, Arnall A (eds) Climate and culture: multidisciplinary perspectives on a warming world. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  29. Godfrey PC (2012) Introduction: race , gender & class and climate change. Race, Gender & Class 19(1/2):3–11

    Google Scholar 

  30. Harding S (2004) The feminist standpoint theory reader intellectual and political controversies. Routledge, New York

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hargreaves T (2011) Practicing behaviour change: applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. J Consum Cult 11(1, SI):79–99

    Google Scholar 

  32. Hart PS, Nisbet EC (2012) Boomerang effects in science communication: how motivated reasoning and identity cues amplify opinion polarization about climate mitigation policies. Commun Res 39(6):701–723

    Google Scholar 

  33. Hartter J, Hamilton LC, Boag AE, Stevens FR, Ducey MJ, Christoffersen ND, Oester PT, Palace MW (2018) Does it matter if people think climate change is human caused? Climate Services 10:53–62

    Google Scholar 

  34. Hobsbawm E, Ranger T (1983) The invention of tradition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  35. Hochschild AR (2016) Strangers in their own land: anger and mourning on the American right. The New Press, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  36. Jordan J (2005) Poem about my rights. In: Levi JH, Miles S (eds) Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan. Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, pp 309–312

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kasper DVS (2009) Ecological habitus: toward a better understanding of socioecological relations. Organ Environ 22(3):311–326

    Google Scholar 

  38. Kennedy EH, Beckley TM, McFarlane BL, Nadeau S (2009) Why we don’t ‘walk the talk’: understanding the environmental values/behaviour gap in Canada. Hum Ecol Rev 16(2):151–160

    Google Scholar 

  39. King CR (2004) This is not an Indian: situating claims about Indianness in sporting worlds. J Sport Soc Issues 28(1):3–10

    Google Scholar 

  40. Kollmuss A, Agyeman J (2002) Mind the gap: why do people behave environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour. Environ Educ Res 8(3):239–260

    Google Scholar 

  41. Lareau A (2002) Invisible inequality: social class and childrearing in black families and white families. Am Sociol Rev 67(5):747–776

    Google Scholar 

  42. Lee TM, Markowitz EM, Howe PD, Ko C-Y, Leiserowitz AA (2015) Predictors of public climate change awareness and risk perception around the world. Nat Clim Chang 5(11):1014–1020

    Google Scholar 

  43. Leiserowitz A, Maibach E, Roser-Renouf C, Feinberg G, Rosenthal S (2016) Climate change in the American mind. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  44. Lertzman RA (2013) The myth of apathy: psychoanalytic explorations of environmental subjectivity. In: Weintrobe S (ed) Engaging with climate change: psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  45. Lopez HI (2006) White by law: the legal construction of race. Revised an. New York University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  46. Lorde A (1987) Age, race, class and sex: women redefining difference. In: Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, Berkeley, pp 114–123

    Google Scholar 

  47. Luís S, Vauclair C-M, Lima ML (2018) Raising awareness of climate change causes? Cross-National Evidence for the normalization of societal risk perception of climate change. Environ Sci Pol 80:74–81

    Google Scholar 

  48. Mann ME, Gleick PH, Touma D (2015) Climate change and California drought in the 21st century. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112(13):3858–3859

    Google Scholar 

  49. Martin KA (1998) Becoming a gendered body: practices of preschools. Am Sociol Rev 63(4):494

    Google Scholar 

  50. Metag J, Füchslin T, Schäfer MS (2017) Global Warming’s five Germanys: a typology of Germans’ views on climate change and patterns of media use and information. Public Underst Sci 26(4):434–451

    Google Scholar 

  51. Moon W, Florkowski WJ, Brückner B, Schonhoff I (2002) Willingness to pay for environmental practices: implications for eco-labeling. Land Econ 78(1):88–102

    Google Scholar 

  52. Moser SC (2007) In the long shadows of inaction: the quiet building of a climate protection movement in the United States. Glob Environ Polit 7(2):124–144

    Google Scholar 

  53. Moser SC (2016) Reflections on climate change communication research and practice in the second decade of the 21st century: what more is there to say? Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 7(3):345–369

    Google Scholar 

  54. Nagel J (2012) Intersecting identities and global climate change. Identities 19(4):467–476

    Google Scholar 

  55. Norgaard KM (2011) Living in denial: climate change, emotions, and everyday life. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  56. Norgaard KM (2012) Climate denial and the construction of innocence: reproducing transnational environmental privilege in the face of climate change. Race, Gender & Class 19:80–103

    Google Scholar 

  57. O’Brien K (2012) Global environmental change III: closing the gap between knowledge and action. Prog Hum Geogr 37(4):587–596

    Google Scholar 

  58. Omi M, Winant H (2015) Racial formation in the United States, 3rd edn. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  59. Palm R, Lewis GB, Feng B (2017) What causes people to change their opinion about climate change? Ann Am Assoc Geogr 107(4):883–896

    Google Scholar 

  60. Saphores J-DM, Ogunseitan OA, Shapiro AA (2012) Willingness to engage in a pro-environmental behavior: an analysis of e-waste recycling based on a National Survey of U.S. households. Resour Conserv Recycl 60:49–63

    Google Scholar 

  61. Scott JW (1986) Gender: a useful category of historical analysis. Am Hist Rev 91(5):1053–1075

    Google Scholar 

  62. Sewell WH Jr (1992) A theory of structure: duality, agency, and transformation. Am J Sociol 98(1):1

    Google Scholar 

  63. Shove E (2010) Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ Plan A 42(6):1273–1285

    Google Scholar 

  64. Shove E, Walker G (2014) What is energy for? Social practice and energy demand. Theory Cult Soc 31(5):41–45

    Google Scholar 

  65. Wetherell M (2008) Subjectivity or Psychodiscursive Practices? Investigating Complex Intersectional Identities. Subjectivity. 22:73–81

    Google Scholar 

  66. Whyte KP (2017) Our ancestors’ dystopia now: indigenous conservation and the Anthropocene. In: Heise U, Christensen J, Niemann M (eds) Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  67. Wolfe P (1999) Settler colonialism and the transformation of anthropology: the politics and poetics of an ethnographic event. Cassell, London

    Google Scholar 

  68. Wood BD, Vedlitz A (2007) Issue definition, information processing, and the politics of global warming. Am J Polit Sci 51(3):552–568

    Google Scholar 

  69. Yin RK (1981) The case study crisis: some answers. Adm Sci Q 26(1):58–65

    Google Scholar 

  70. Yin RK (2018) Case study research and applications: design and methods, 6th edn. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  71. Zia A, Todd AM (2010) Evaluating the effects of ideology on public understanding of climate change science: how to improve communication across ideological divides? Public Underst Sci 19(6):743–761

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Allison Ford.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Special Issue on Everyday Climate Cultures: Understanding the cultural politics of climate change^ edited by Goodman, Doyle and Farrell

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ford, A., Norgaard, K.M. Whose everyday climate cultures? Environmental subjectivities and invisibility in climate change discourse. Climatic Change 163, 43–62 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02632-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Indigenous peoples
  • Culture
  • Intersectionality
  • Subjectivity
  • Cultural framing