From clashing to matching : examining the legitimation codes that underpin shifting views about climate change
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This study investigates people’s views about climate change. It examines how they shift in conversation, and the potential for climate change communications and engagement (CCC&E) to engage with and shift views. Existing research tends to analyze statements of view as the reflections of cognitive processes or social and cultural phenomena, rather than also analyzing the forms taken by knowledge expressed in the statements themselves. The study employs a sociological framework, Legitimation Code Theory, to analyze the organizing principles of statements in the form of different ‘legitimation codes’. These represent the organizing principles of statements that are valorized in a particular setting, such as being more strongly based on scientific evidence or on subjective experience, more concrete or abstract, more simple or complex. The study analyzes modified focus group and interview conversations of a lay group and a group of public policy influencers from think tanks in Australia. Analyses of participants’ shifts in views and processes of finding common ground reveal the importance of the legitimation codes underpinning the discussions. Changes in lay participants’ statements from dismissing to accepting climate change and responses to it were associated with a shift from a ‘code clash’ to a ‘code match’. Shifts in legitimation codes were also key to the think tank participants finding some common ground despite their ideological differences. Further, the study reconceptualizes the CCC&E strategies of translation and transformation in LCT terms so that translation becomes a ‘code match’ and transformation a ‘code drift’ or ‘code shift’. Some suggestions for CCC&E are made based on the empirical findings and reconceptualized strategies. For lay audiences, these include emphasizing the personal qualities of climate scientists (translation) or using familiar analogies to communicate the science (transformation); encouraging action on the basis of the good citizen “doing your bit” (translation); and building support for systemic change such as carbon pricing by invoking concepts of fairness and the responsibility of big polluters (transformation). For public policy influencers, translation means retaining their ideological preferences and finding common ground, while transformation requires a change in their modus operandi to weaken the ideological basis if it conflicts with the science.
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