Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Environmental Communication as a Field of Study

Robert Cox has a great book called "Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere" which can be found here at Amazon or any larger book store

Cox describes environmental communication as “…[a] study of the ways in which we communicate about the environment, the effects of this communication on our perceptions of both the environment and ourselves, and therefore on our relationship with the natural world(Cox, 2006, p.xxiii).

He elaborates on this definition by saying that

“[a] clearer definition [of environmental communication] takes into account the distinctive roles of language, art, photographs, street protests, and even scientific reports as forms of symbolic action. The term comes from Kenneth Burke (1966), a 20th-century rhetorical theorist…Burke stated that even the most unemotional language is necessarily persuasive. This is so because our language and other symbolic acts do something as well as say something…symbolic action assumes that language and symbols do more than transmit information: they actively shape our understanding, create meaning, and orient us to a wider world”(Cox, 2006, p.12).

As will be discussed in more detail under the blog posts on symbolic capital, environmental or sustainability communication is focused on creating a more sustainable and equitable world by reinventing, imagining and describing the world in a way that precludes action and progress towards this world. Environmental/Sustainability communication focuses on taking the common sense, taken for granted social structures within our society and “making them strange”. In other words, stripping them of their take for granted status and laying their basic assumptions, values and power inequities out for questioning and deconstruction. Sustainability communication also attempts to recreate a vision of society that is preferable to the one we currently have so that citizens can start to weave a new story about the way things “should be”.

Good sustainability communication then, as Cox describes helps us understand where our perceptions of our taken for granted reality come from and redesign these perceptions in order to reorient human action. The author asserts that access to symbolic power, the ability to describe and reconstitute the description of the world and our place in it, is the most important goal for the sustainability education movement in BC.

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