Distorting the Reality of Climate Change: Anti-Reflexive Narratives of Conservative Think Tanks in Canadian Newspapers

Shuba, Curtis James
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Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Regina

Despite the existential threat to life on this planet posed by climate change, many North Americans continue with ‘business as usual’. While the substance of the debate is different, in each country awareness of the gravity of the situation seems lacking. Given that the perception and meaning of reality determines how it is acted towards, this thesis examines how climate change in Canada has come to be discursively constructed so that its reality is recognized, but its seriousness is overshadowed by other issues. Western society is transitioning from modernity into reflexive modernization whereby pre-existing institutions and underlying principles are challenged (Beck, 1994). This is amplified by impact science that exposes inherent contradictions of the dominant social paradigm. In response, anti-reflexive forces promote discourse defending the current system to undermine attempts to change the status quo (i.e., reflexive forces). The struggle to construct meaning is contested and opposing forces vie for symbolic and cultural capital in the field of climate change. This thesis analyses the social construction of climate change in Canadian news-media. The research is guided by the ontological and epistemological assumptions of critical realism and seeks to elucidate a causal mechanism, its underlying structure, and the conditions that interact to manifest climate change discourse specific to Canada. A content analysis of two Canadian newspapers and two Canadian conservative think tanks was administered to reveal frequent thematic frames and claims, contextualize text, capture narratives, and determine prominent actors and institutions. These results were subjected to the processes of abduction and retroduction to explain underlying mechanisms. Abduction primarily relied on Beck’s (1994) theory of reflexive modernization, McCright and Dunlap’s (2010) anti-reflexivity thesis, Bourdieu’s (1998) practice theory, and Freudenburg’s (2005) double diversion theory. Reflexive and anti-reflexive discourse were found but their usage varied substantially by data source, quantitively and qualitatively. The socio-historical conditions of the Canadian context were found to influence the causal powers of the anti-reflexive mechanism, producing discourse specific to Canada. These findings contribute to the literature of climate change discourse.

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Sociology, University of Regina. xi, 232 p.