Critical Approaches to Climate Change and Civic Action

Anabela Carvalho, Julie Doyle, Chris Russill

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


There is wide recognition that the dangers of climate change require urgent, large scale, and systemic changes (IPCC, 2018). There is also a growing awareness that these changes are not simply a question of carbon emissions and regulatory policies, but of democracy and societal transformation (e.g., Klein, 2014; Rasbash, 2019). In challenging the priority of the economic, regulatory, and technological solutions of an emissions paradigm, a diverse range of actors are centring questions of power, exclusion, and justice to recast climate change communication around the needs of societal transformation. The contemporary climate change movement is thus broader, more diverse, and more inventive than contemporary scholarship often suggests, reconfiguring climate action and climate communication as mutually interdependent.

The epistemological, conceptual and analytical challenges that result from taking the diversity of these actions seriously is worth critical attention and study. Responding to these challenges, the Research Topic on Critical Approaches to Climate Change and Civic Action focuses on the communicative dimensions of contemporary forms of climate action. By viewing the meanings of climate change as defined in communication practices, we center the role of communication in imagining, shaping, facilitating, contesting and enacting collective action on climate change. In doing so, we situate communication as constitutive of the epistemological, discursive and material conditions necessary for creating societal transformations at a systemic level. While the field of climate change communication has moved beyond its ad hoc origins and is now informed by a wide array of disciplines, including psychology, political science, and neuroscience, the constitutive aspect of communication is often minimized or elided in this work. A constitutive approach to communication, as Ballentyne (2016) reminds us, is distinguished by its attention to the co-production of discourse (or communication practices) and reality, and by an understanding of climate change as both physically and socially produced. It also encourages critical approaches to communication that are more open, inclusive, and responsive to the emplaced and embodied knowledges that animate the climate change movement.

Our approach to this Research Topic has several features that follow from recognizing the constitutive element of communication. The articles engage in theoretical, empirical and critical reflection by situating communicative practices as constitutive of the relationships that make up our worlds. Articles in this collection are also critical in their attention to the questions of power and marginalization that invariably shape our understanding of climate change. “Critical,” in this respect, does not mean sceptical or cynical toward climate science, but indicates an anti-essentialist engagement with the assumptions, norms, and inequalities in the systems of power that shape our collective futures. Questions of identity, meaning, interpretation, action, power, and human/more-than-human relations are brought into the political foreground. Finally, the articles are inventive in allowing our concepts and epistemologies to be unsettled by events, and in resituating climate change communication with respect to wider visions and imaginaries of societal transformation. In this editorial piece, besides introducing the articles that are part of this Research Topic, we take the opportunity to discuss the nature and traits of critical communication research and how it can uniquely contribute to understanding civic action and societal transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Typeedited collection
Media of outputebook
Publisher Frontiers Media SA
Number of pages128
Place of PublicationLausanne
ISBN (Electronic)9782889712793
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2021

Publication series

NameFrontiers in Communication


  • climate communication
  • climate action
  • civic action
  • participation


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