University of Nottingham

The cultural framing of environmental discourse

Project outline

This network aimed to complement existing research in the natural and social sciences into environmental issues such as climate change and the extinction of species by examining their social and cultural dimensions. It has brought research in English and Comparative Literature (ecocritics), Environmental Sociology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Environmental Communications, Media Studies, Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Museum Studies, Environmental History, Education and Environmental Campaigning to bear on the framing of discourse on the environment, the values explicitly or implicitly underpinning different framings, and the causes and consequences of contemporary processes of reframing.

Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse
Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse


Workshop 1: 'The Cultural Framing of Environmental Discourse'

Location: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Date: 2nd-3rd December 2010

The first workshop explored the part played by norms and values in key disciplines concerned with the environment, with the concept of framing, and with the relevance of Frame Analysis (which originated in Cognitive Psychology and Social Movement Sociology) for the Humanities. It explored the extent to which the individual disciplines identified and evaluated framings, shared research questions, and sought to address different specific research questions associated with framing processes, their implications and consequences. In a public lecture entitled 'From Public Parks to Polar Bears: Talking about the Environment and Making it Matter', guest speaker Liz Warren drew on her experience in environmental consultancy.


Workshop 2: 'The Cultural Framing of Climate Change and Species Extinction'

Location: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Date: 28th February-1st March 2011

The second workshop opened with a joint public lecture and debate between Mike Hulme (Professor of Climate Science and author of Why We Disagree about Climate Change) and Adeline Johns-Putra (an expert on the literature of climate change). Professor Ursula Heise (Stanford) was among those who contributed papers on issues of literary and visual representation, and framing in the media and civil society organisations.


Workshop 3: 'Reframing Disaster - Normalising Catastrophe'

Location: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Date: 16th-17th June 2011

The final workshop was concerned with perceptions of risk, the normalising of floods and extreme weather, and attitudes towards the artificial. A creative writing session led by author Clare George was included in the first day. Network members also addressed the question of practical applications of findings and discussed possibilities for developing a larger interdisciplinary research project.



The network brought together representatives of different disciplines working on environmental discourse and environmental communication in the UK, Europe and America. It has established the ability of framing to serve as a conceptual focus for comparative analysis of the differing (and shifting) understandings of environmental change across a range of discourses, and to throw light on the ways in which today's environmental challenges are communicated by social actors such as governments, opposition parties, industry and environmental pressure groups, the media, writers and artists. There has been practitioner participation by people working in tv, film, environment consultancy and creative writing, and the local public has been engaged in meetings advertised as part of the BRLSI's and Bath Literature Festival's lecture programme.

The relative status of literary, journalistic, political and scientific narratives of environmental change and their respective significance for visions of the future, for education and for environmental policy have been addressed in papers such as Ursula Heise's 'Lost Dogs, Last Birds, and Listed Species: Cultures of Extinction'. Heise places the narrative that usually accompanies scientific accounts of biodiversity loss in relation to the long tradition of environmentalist stories about the decline of nature, and demonstrates how elegiac and tragic story templates have turned accounts of the decline of a particular species into tools for a broader critique of modernization processes.

Network members plan to publish materials from the workshop in book or journal form.

Award details

Duration: July 2010 - October 2011 

Principal Investigator:
Professor Axel Goodbody

Higher Education Institution:
Department of European Studies and Modern Languages, University of Bath

  • Dr Ingolfur Blühdorn, University of Bath
  • Dr Greg Garrard, Bath Spa University

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071