When ‘Victims’ Take the Lead. Bottom-up Positionality and the Environmental Justice Frame: Deconstruction and Construction from Below

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished abstract

Abstract

‘Western’ thinking is strongly permeated by an economic development model of liberalism and Euro-American centered globalization. However, it has been argued that while the rich and powerful ‘West’ benefits from this thinking, the negative consequences – environmental hazards, such as climate change, economic and social inequality and vulnerability – largely fall on the ‘South’ (Rees & Westra, 2003). This concept, environmental justice (EJ), has been strongly debated in recent years (e.g., Agyeman and Evans, 2004). Mainstream media, however, usually address it on a rather ‘superficial’ level (Farbotko, 2005), failing to look beyond hegemonic values. This is largely due to their top-down/hegemonic ‘positionality’, or “location within the larger social formation” (Taylor, 2000, p. 509). Indeed, according to Pulido and Pena (1998) positionality is key to the way people interpret, define and thus act upon environmental issues. Positionality – in terms of context (e.g., sponsors), content (e.g., sources) and production process (e.g., journalists) is also a core point of difference between mainstream and alternative media (Atton, 2002; Downing, 2001; Harcup, 2014): Alternative media, amplifying the grassroots voices of organizations or citizens, tend to hold a bottom-up positionality. As such, they are more likely to deconstruct hegemonic thinking and construct alternatives (Hopke, 2012). Drawing on the assumptions above, we conducted a qualitative (deductive-)inductive framing analysis (Entman, 1991; 1993; 2004; Richardson, 2007; Tankard, 2001; van Dijk, 1998; Van Gorp, 2006). Our corpus comprised all articles featuring climate change, published between February 28, 2012 and February 28, 2014 in three Flemish (Northern Belgian) mainstream newspapers (n = 534) and an alternative website, ‘DeWereldMorgen’ (n = 205). Our assumption that one frame may be employed by various ideological stances is illustrated remarkably vividly in the oppositional realizations of the EJ frame. Hence, based on our findings, we compiled matrices of the mainstream and alternative EJ subframes, next to the overarching master frame matrix. In order to illuminate these abstract matrices, we complemented them with a micro-scale analysis of case study articles. By and large, the alternative subframe reverses the ‘Western’ hierarchical thinking, based on demarcations like ‘us’ (‘West’) versus ‘them’ (‘South’), agents versus patients, heroes versus victims. Both subframes denounce the ‘West’s’ excessive GHG emissions. Nevertheless, the mainstream represents the disproportionate vulnerability of the ‘South’ to climatic changes as an internal defect, which can only be resolved by external (economic) help (the ‘West’). The alternative subframe, however, reverses this thinking: An external cause (‘the West’) bears full responsibility for the ‘South’ suffering the major part of the climate change consequences, but also for its disproportionate (social, economic…) vulnerability, it being reduced to a silent victim. Yet, the ‘South’ holds a superior/equal (agent) position with regard to adaptation, thanks to grassroots (‘internal’) experiences. Clearly, the alternative subframe provides the broader contextualization which the mainstream overlooks. This unique reversal is also vividly illustrated by the (‘reversed’) ideological square (based on van Dijk (1998, p. 33)), we introduce as a unique contribution to the (applied) linguistics and media studies field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages124
Number of pages157
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2015
EventIAMCR 2015 - Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research - University of Québec in Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 12 Jul 201516 Jul 2015

Conference

ConferenceIAMCR 2015 - Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research
CountryCanada
CityMontreal
Period12/07/1516/07/15

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