Whose Climate Discourse is Legitimised by Extinction Rebellion, and How Might This Discourse Shape Protestor Engagement With Climate Activism

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

Abstract

Whilst the direct actions of protest group Extinction Rebellion are not new within the history of social protest, they have attracted unusually high levels of attention and participation, including newcomers to activism (Hayes et al, 2018).  However, writers of colour have pointed out that environmental justice issues are missing from XR narratives (Cowan 2019, Josette 2019), such as the evidence that climate change disproportionately affects those already experiencing systemic disadvantage (Nelson et al 2002). A tension therefore exists between the potential policy benefits of mainstream public engagement, and the limitations of constructing a movement which ignores those who will suffer first and greatest, raising questions over what kind of activism XR’s discourse encourages. To address this tension, this research aims to explore the discourse used in XR’s campaign strategies to encourage climate protest, and explore protestors’ attitudes and engagement with activism.

Taking a social constructionist methodological stance, and taking discourse to be a primary site of the social construction of reality in accordance with Foucauldian theory (1971), structures of meaning and interaction are examined through a critical discourse analysis of Extinction Rebellion discourse including promotional materials, website text and images. This analysis is then compared against interviews with people who were drawn to public protest action by XR. 

The research concludes that many XR’s campaign discourses are replicated by XR members. These include a conscious rejection of environmental activist stereotypes and a framing of XR as ‘ordinary’ people, an overall sidestepping of issues of privilege, climate justice and systemic inequality, and an emphasis on urgency and timescales. This results in an ends-justify-means approach to climate activism, as well as 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.
Date of Award11 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorJulie Doyle (Supervisor) & Raphael Schlembach (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • climate activism
  • social movements
  • extinction rebellion

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