chapter  1
16 Pages

The study of environmental discourse

This is a book about how we talk about the environment, why we talk about the environment in a certain way, and some of the effects of doing so. The study of environmental discourse is one of many ways of approaching the relationship between humans and the environment.1 It may not be the most prolific so far in terms of empirical richness or theoretical maturity, but it has gained considerable momentum during the 1990s, drawing to a large extent on more comprehensive insights from other parts of the social sciences than those traditionally preoccupied with environmental politics. Discourse analysis has a particular focus on written and spoken language and seeks to trace patterns of how a given object of study is talked and written about by different subjects. Moreover, it is often a major goal of this approach to reveal the societal features, for instance values prevailing among a specific group of people at a given time, that produce particular verbal or written representations of reality. In the study of environmental politics, this often takes the form of tracing the context of this particular sector of policy; is the environmental discourse, for instance, embedded in other, and more general discourses in society? Finally, the question is sometimes asked whether tendencies to talk (or write) about the environment in a specific way contribute to shaping actual policy choices. For instance, does taking a conservationist stance in discussions lead to conservationist politics, or are there other motives behind the chosen form of expression besides a signalling of desire for particular political measures?