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On the threshold: a social psychological study of different standpoints in the climate change debate

Tennant, Chris (2012) On the threshold: a social psychological study of different standpoints in the climate change debate. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Helm (2008) asked: 'Climate change policy: why has so little been achieved?' Cultural Theory (CT) has been used to analyse the debate over climate change, arguing that competing worldviews mandate divergent policy responses (Rayner & Malone 1998). CT's framework suggests the monolithic structure of the UNFCCC process fails to integrate these multiple worldviews, hindering effective action. This thesis uses a complementary framework, Fiske's (1992) Relational Model's Theory (RMT). Whereas CT analyses the debate at the societal level, RMT proposes a framework of individual social cognition comprising four models of social exchange: 'Equality Matching', based upon reciprocity; 'Communal Sharing', based on equal entitlement within a community; 'Authority Ranking', based upon established status; and 'Market Pricing', based on an external currency of merit. RMT implies that the relational models found in individual cognition should be mirrored in any debate at the societal and inter-personal levels. Content analyses of media articles and focus group interviews support the view that there are four coherent Standpoints matching these relational models in the debate. Survey respondents who believe in climate change used different models from those who did not, but survey evidence also gave support to the view that individuals use multiple models to reason over novel or contested issues such as climate change. CT explicitly argues that one of the four hypothesised worldviews, the 'fatalist', is not active in shaping policy. In contrast, these empirical studies suggest that the closest equivalent relational model, Equality Matching, generates the Commons Dilemma (Hardin, 1968) that actually drives much of the debate. The studies also raised new questions about the structure connecting the four relational models, or the worldviews. Lastly, the framework confirms it will be difficult to get concerted action before climate change impacts intensify, at which point social as well as climate thresholds will have been crossed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Chris Tennant
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Gaskell, George

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