Disrupting polarized discourses: can we get out of the ruts of environmental conflicts?
Lucas, C and Warman, R, Disrupting polarized discourses: can we get out of the ruts of environmental conflicts?, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 36, (6) pp. 987-1005. ISSN 2399-6544 (2018) [Refereed Article]
Polarization in environmental conflicts obstructs decision making at all scales. The Australian
state of Tasmania has a history of intense polarization around environmental issues. This article uses a social study of citizens of the capital, Hobart, and a case study of a recent attempt to disrupt polarization about forestry in Tasmania, to develop a novel conceptualization of ‘ruts’ in environmental conflicts. Ruts are formed when polarizing social constructs gain a momentum that perpetuates entrenched discourse coalitions and storylines into subsequent issues. This is evidenced in attitudinal survey results, and in interviews that show how storylines from the forestry debate frame people’s responses to climate change. The case study describes negotiations in the forestry conflict that had some success in disrupting these polarized discourses. After the longterm failure of the traditional authorities of government and science to resolve conflict over Tasmania’s forests, a sub-political process emerged to directly renegotiate a shared definition of risk. The study shows that new coalitions of players from outside traditional systems of authority have the potential to disrupt polarized discourses, through the creation of shared storylines. The challenge is to be prepared to acknowledge the legitimacy of divergent values, and to seek framings that sidestep, rather than confront strongly held conflicting values. Insights from this article are likely to be of value for other environmental conflicts, including climate change.