Media, Communication, and the Social Performance of Environmentalism: Comparing Ecological Collectives on Two Sides of the Baltic Sea

Field: Medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap, genusvetenskap, historia
Project leader: Heike Graf
Starting year: 2010
Project type: Project

Scholars often treat environmentalism as a hard-science concern. But environmental change necessarily involves human thoughts and actions. If environmental degradation is to be curtailed, we must understand how humans conceive of and communicate about nature, how they can be motivated, collectively, to act, and what pre-existing social roles might influence their actions – fields in which humanists excel.

In this project, humanists analyse the functioning of three different ecological forums.

Gender scholar Robert Hamrén focuses on a collective created by face-to-face communication: the activist group Klimax, currently conducting on-site environmentalist struggle against Swedish Vattenfall’s acquisition of German coal-burning plants. His interviews and participatory field-work will investigate how masculine ideals, emotions, and “environmentalist” life-styles combine to create ecological activists.

Media analyst Heike Graf turns to another type of collective. Her study focuses on computer-mediated communication, in a comparison of Swedish and German ecological gardening blogs. How do such blogs use appeals to emotions, rituals and bodies, to enculture readers into an imagined ecological community?

Finally, historian Madeleine Hurd looks at newspapers’ imagined communities, in a study of German and Swedish eco-nationalist discourse. Like Graf, she analyses how media uses rituals and emotions to invite “ecological” performances – in this case, nationalist and hypermasculine; like Hamrén, she is interested in the intersection of masculinity and environmentalism.

These three studies’ shared Swedish-German comparative focus, and their common ground in discourse, performance, enculturation and new social movement theory, will increase understanding of how environmentalist behaviour works: how different communication forums create different collectives, how these can be used to promote “ecological” performances and social roles, and how these, finally, might draw strength from or conflict with other social roles, in the two Baltic countries of Germany and Sweden.