The Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse

This AHRC-funded Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse research network (CFOED) held its first workshop at the University of Bath on 2-3 December 2010.

This multidisciplinary network is led by Professor Axel Goodbody and Dr Ingolfur Bluhdorn of the University of Bath's Department of European Studies & Modern Languages together with Dr Greg Garrard of Bath Spa University, and runs from August 2010 to July 2011.

Part of the AHRC's strategic programme on 'Landscape & Environment', it complements research in the natural and social sciences into environmental problems such as climate change and the extinction of species. It focuses on the framing of discourse on the environment, the values underpinning different framings explicitly or implicitly, and the causes and consequences of contemporary processes of reframing.

Bath researchers from the Departments of Education and Chemical Engineering, and the School of Management are participating in the network alongside colleagues from other universities in the UK, Europe and North America. Disciplines represented include English Literature, Sociology, Environmental Education, Linguistics, Environmental History, Philosophy, Communications Studies, Media Studies, Film Studies, Museology, Environmental Science and Consultancy.

Researchers at the inaugural workshop of the Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse research network

A second concern of the project is to define the part played by literature and the arts in shaping public perceptions of the environment, and in addressing the gap between environmental information and behaviour, alongside the natural sciences, the media, political and economic discourse. The arts not only mediate conceptions of the nature/culture relationship in narrative and visual representations, they also experiment with and reconfigure them.

Finally, the network seeks to explore the potential for applying the insights gained in environmental education, creative writing and museum exhibitions, through engagement with user groups.

The December workshop, which was the first of three to be held in Bath, focused on clarifying the concept of framing, and investigating the part played by norms and values in key disciplines concerned with the environment.

It explored the extent to which the individual disciplines identified and evaluated framings, shared research questions, and sought to address different specific research questions associated with framing processes, their implications and consequences.

  • Dr Blühdorn presented a paper on 'political ecology', 'ecological modernisation' and the 'Green New Deal' as successive dominant framings of political discourse on the environment since the 1970s.
  • Professor Soper offered 'alternative hedonism' as an example of contemporary efforts to reframe our relationship with the natural environment.
  • Dr Müller presented 'literature as cultural ecology' as a way of theorising the role of literature and culture in facilitating societal sustainability.
  • Richard Kerridge traced the origins of literary ecocriticism in the UK in liberal humanism, and explained how cultural traditions frame public discourse on the environment in Britain.
  • Liz Warren gave a public lecture on Thursday evening drawing on her experience in environmental consultancy, entitled 'From Public Parks to Polar Bears: Talking about the Environment and Making it Matter'.

The Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution is a project partner in the network, and the photograph shows workshop participants in the Lonsdale Room, which BRLSI has kindly provided for the workshop meetings. The workshop papers will be shortly be accessible together with other material relating to the project on the network website.

The next workshop (27 February-1 March 2011) will focus on issues of literary, visual and museum representation. The cultural critic Professor Ursula Heise (Stanford) and the climate scientist Professor Mike Hulme (University of East Anglia) will lead a public debate on the framing of climate change and species extinction at an event organised in collaboration with the Bath Literature Festival.

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