Science or science fiction? Professionals’ discursive construction of climate change

From Organization Studies

Is it possible that modern society’s bitter political divisions over belief in anthropogenic climate change is distracting decision-makers from the far more practical and urgent matter of confronting the risk that it presents, directly or indirectly, to businesses and the economy? Based on a survey of 1,000 professional engineers and geologists in Alberta, this paper suggests this may be so. It examines the different viewpoints these experts hold concerning climate change and possible ways forward. Five frames that differ with regard to the cause of climate change, its implications and impacts, and especially the necessary steps, including regulation, to attend to the problem are identified. The paper also offers insights on the different ways in which adherents of these frames justify their views, legitimate themselves as experts in the matter, and try to mobilize others to support them.

Exploring the link between position within corporations and government and the frames used, the study indicates that those who are more defensive occupy more senior organizational positions and are much closer to decision-making than pro-regulation activists. Despite the current scientific dissension, declining public interest and political intransigence, the paper concludes by outlining an opportunity to ‘broker’ dissention between these groups.

Abstract

This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals’ discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ‘the truth’, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ‘defensive institutional work’ by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.

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Article details
Lefsrud, L., & Meyer, R. (2012). Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change Organization Studies, 33 (11), 1477-1506 DOI: 10.1177/0170840612463317

     
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