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Pop-cultural Mobilization: Deploying Game of Thrones to Shift US Climate Change Politics

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Over the last two decades, scholars have developed an increasingly sophisticated range of approaches to studying the complex relationship between popular culture and politics. This article addresses three major weakness in this expanding body of research: (1) the analytic focus on the pop-cultural artifact itself rather than political actors and scholars doing the causal-political or pedagogical work, (2) a lack of attention to the question whether different culture consumers’ interpretations and experiences of a pop-cultural artifact match those of scholars, and (3) the dearth of empirical studies verifying theoretical claims. I address these weaknesses by introducing the concept of pop-cultural mobilization to capture the active and deliberate appropriation of pop-cultural resources for a specific political purpose by political actors. I support my conceptual argument with empirical data for a case study on the TV show Game of Thrones (GOT): a qualitative content analysis of 55 political commentaries published between 2013 and 2016. The authors of these political commentaries purposefully contributed to a process of meaning-making among the American public by publishing their own interpretations of the TV show, especially what they perceived as strong parallels between the GOT narratives and climate change politics in the real world. The analysis demonstrates the interpretive openness of the pop-cultural artifact GOT, challenging the often-assumed interpretive authority of scholars’ readings of a cultural narrative. There is even the potential for political opponents to make use of the same pop-cultural material to advance different policy agendas.

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  1. The analysis was supplemented with in-depth interviews with several authors, and participant-observation at climate negotiation sessions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) between 2013 and 2017).

  2. Link:, accessed May 10, 2016.

  3. YouTube link:, accessed September 6, 2017.

  4. Grist, “It is known,”, accessed September 6, 2017.

  5. Vanity Fair, “Who is the Jon Snow of Climate Change,”, accessed September 6, 2017.

  6. Cracked, “The Inconvenient Truth about Game of Thrones,”, accessed September 6, 2017.


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Charli Carpenter and Daniel Drezner inspired this research project when they invited me to contribute to a themed panel on Game of Thrones and International Relations at the 2015 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association. I would also like to acknowledge the important role of two anonymous reviewers in shaping this manuscript. I am very grateful for the the extremely thoughtful and constructive comments they provided.

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Correspondence to Manjana Milkoreit.

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Ethical Approval

All procedures performed for this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board of Arizona State University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Milkoreit, M. Pop-cultural Mobilization: Deploying Game of Thrones to Shift US Climate Change Politics. Int J Polit Cult Soc 32, 61–82 (2019).

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