Dissertation Defense: Michael Shank - Climate Conflict: Positions and Frames Motivating Stakeholder Engagement
Please join S-CAR PhD Candidate Michael Shank as he defends his dissertation on Friday Feb 8th at 12PM in Truland Room 555!
Michael Shank, Ph.D.
George Mason University, 2013
Dissertation Director: Dr. Solon Simmons
Dissertation Committee: Dr. Solon Simmons, Dr. Richard Rubenstein, Dr. Edward Maibach
Researchers and practitioners in the field of conflict analysis and resolution have realized the important contribution environmental conflict plays in the ever-evolving field of conflict theory and conflict practice. Simultaneously, conflict researchers trained in positioning theory, identity theory, discourse and narrative analysis, are similarly exploring new ground in the field of communicative practice – and what this means for conflict practitioners now venturing into the fields of media and policy – in order to analyze how parties and stakeholders to a conflict will position and reposition their identities via publicly-stated frames and narratives.
This research is rooted in conflict theory and positioned at the nexus of all three theoretical frontiers: environmental conflict and communicative practice as manifested in media and policy spheres. This research examines the intractability of one particularly environmental conflict, that of climate change, and explores how intractable positions, worldviews, and frames have been employed between the parties and stakeholders to the conflict, leading to greater intractability and an inability of the conflict stakeholders to ultimately address and resolve the environmental conflict at hand. This research seeks to understand why one party to the conflict – the public and its role in the civil sphere – has been involved in analyzing, and consequently believing in, the existence of this particular environmental conflict but absent from the conflict resolution process. This research also seeks to understand why two other key stakeholders – mainstream media and Members of Congress – similarly believe in the existence of climate change but fail to act on that belief and work to resolve this environmental conflict.
Using conflict theory contributions from studies in communicative action, structuration theory and the dialectic of control, among others, this research explores the severed linkages between stakeholders’ attitudinal positions vis-à-vis climate change and stakeholders’ behavioral trends vis-à-vis this environmental conflict. The research concludes by suggesting policy prescriptions for stakeholders to reposition this environmental conflict in a way that meets the identity needs of the stakeholders involved, while building a bridge between the attitudinal and behavioral gaps that currently exist.
This qualitative research effort is based on interviews with key informants in mainstream media and among Members of the US Congress who have participated in and been responsible for shaping and positioning environmental conflict narratives on climate change in the public and civil sphere. The main research questions stemming from the original dissertation proposal are these: What are the positions motivating Congressional and Media engagement on this issue? What new narratives will enable increased Congressional and Media stakeholder engagement? What is required for these new narratives to emerge?
In the conflict analysis and resolution field, there is scant literature addressing this nexus of environmental conflict, media and policy. Most of the literature comes more recently from the field of environmental sociology and emerges primarily within the last twenty to thirty years. This research, consequently, adds valuable new data to the ever-emerging field of environmental conflict analysis and conflict resolution, and adds to existing conflict research on the importance of positions, frames and narratives in enabling stakeholders to engage in conflict management, transformation and resolution, by addressing the power brokers shaping these climate-related conflict narratives, positioning this environmental conflict in the civil sphere, and highlighting the role and responsibility of the elite informants and the publics in utilizing these conflict narratives.