Inaction and environmental crisis: Narrative, defence mechanisms and the social organisation of denial

Abstract

The evidence that we face a catalogue of environmental crises caused by human activities, which pose a threat to planetary, social and personal continuity, is communicated in increasingly sophisticated ways. Despite increased knowledge, the populaces of wealthy nations appear to be outwardly ignoring such risks, continuing their consumption patterns unabated, and failing to mount a significant public response. Interventions aimed at encouraging more sustainable behaviours have largely drawn on individualistic psychology, and to date they have been largely unsuccessful. This paper is a call to deepen and widen our understanding of the psychosocial processes involved in not responding to the issues at stake. It does so by drawing on narrative approaches in the social sciences, psychoanalytic conceptualisations of defence mechanisms, and recent work addressing the social organisation of denial. The potential of these developments for informing social movements and political action is briefly considered in the light of an example, the Dark Mountain Project.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘Dark Mountain’ is taken from the final lines of the poem Rearmament (1935), by the late American environmentalist poet Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962). The poem ends: ‘To change the future... I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern/ Man is not in the persons but in the/Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the/Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.’ The poem is available in full at: www.poemhunter.com/poem/rearmament/.

  2. 2.

    See for example the Story of Stuff at: www.storyofstuff.org; Follow the things at: www.followthethings.com/; Slavery Footprint at http://slaveryfootprint.org/.

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Adams, M. Inaction and environmental crisis: Narrative, defence mechanisms and the social organisation of denial. Psychoanal Cult Soc 19, 52–71 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2013.21

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Keywords

  • consumerism
  • Dark Mountain Project
  • defence mechanisms
  • denial
  • social organisation of denial
  • sustainability