“This is not Swampy, this is my child’s orthodontist”: Constructing the ‘Ordinary’ Activist in XR’s Precarious Climate

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Climate protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR) emphasises the precarity of climate change, with narratives of emergency, insecurity and instability. However XR activists often have limited experience of social precarity, and are more likely to be white, affluent and well-educated. XR is also critiqued for avoiding environmental justice issues, such as the evidence that climate change disproportionately affects those already experiencing systemic disadvantage. A tension therefore exists between XR’s potential for policy impact through mainstream public engagement by individuals with high social currency, and the limitations of a climate movement which ignores the main victims of the precarity it highlights. 
To explore how XR protestors construct their identity and behaviour in relation to this tension, a critical discourse analysis of XR’s campaign discourse was conducted, and compared against interviews with XR members. Activists were found to replicate campaign discourses, including a conscious rejection of stereotypical environmental activist identities and a framing of XR and themselves as ‘ordinary’ people. There was a sidestepping of issues of privilege, climate justice and systemic inequality, and an emphasis on urgency and timescales. This results in a construction of the XR activist as a hero or saviour, and an ends-justify-means approach to climate activism. This is a reproduction of colonialist, racist and classist tactics and attitudes, dismissing and denying the agency of marginalised groups in order to more effectively interact with institutional power.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2020
EventThe Age of the Precariat - National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Ireland
Duration: 9 Oct 202010 Oct 2020


ConferenceThe Age of the Precariat
Internet address


  • climate activism
  • climate justice
  • Precarity
  • critical discourse analysis


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