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The Symbolic Earth

The Symbolic Earth: Discourse and Our Creation of the Environment

James G. Cantrill
Christine L. Oravec
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Symbolic Earth
    Book Description:

    The core dilemma in environmental advocacy may be illustrated by the question, "When we communicate about the world, should we stress what we know or what we feel?" The contributors to The Symbolic Earth argue that it is more important to decide how we should talk about what we know and feel. In their view, the environment is larely a product of how we talk about the world.

    Because the environment is a social construction, the only hope we have of preserving it is to understand and alter the fundamental ways we discuss it. This collection first examines the ways in which discourse creates environment perceptions. Subjects discussed range from the description of natural scenery to the advocacy of political interest groups, from the everyday interactions of citizens facing environmental crises to the greenwashing of corporate imagemakers, and from the psychology of the mass public to the social constructions of the mass media. The authors include nationally known scholars of environmental history, rhetorical theory, ethnography, communication and journalism studies, public policy, and media criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4898-4
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    James G. Cantrill and Christine L. Oravec

    The past three decades have witnessed a phenomenal growth in concern for and understanding of our environment. Since Earth Day 1970, environmental education in particular has gained a secure foothold in curricula across the country, promising a depth and breadth of ecological literacy unheralded in previous generations. We have also witnessed a steady increase in media attention to the environment, which in turn has influenced the national agenda. And responding as it always has to the vocalized concerns of its constituents, the U.S. government has ratified a series of treaties between ourselves and the Earth. The Clean Air Act of...

  4. Part I: The Field and Context of Environmental Discourse

    • 1 Tracking the Elusive Jeremiad: The Rhetorical Character of American Environmental Discourse
      (pp. 9-37)
      John Opie and Norbert Elliot

      Fitzgerald knew that American ethos was inextricably bound to geography. So did the colonial Puritans before him, and so do we. Across time and circumstance, Americans remain preoccupied with the environment and its relationship to the national character. The more we know about how our writers use rhetoric to frame positions about nature, the more we stand to learn about how rhetorical response reflects our national character and our perceptions of the natural world. This study, therefore, explores the aims and strategies—those observables such as features, forms, means, and tactics (Crusius, 1989, p. 118)—of environmental discourse.

      Our method...

    • 2 Naturalizing Communication and Culture
      (pp. 38-57)
      Donal Carbaugh

      Communication occurs everywhere as part of natural contexts, physical spaces, and landscapes. Whether in riversides, mountain retreats, mountaintops, schoolrooms, courtrooms, living rooms, board rooms-each of these holds considerable force somewhere—or wherever, communication is radically “placed.” In this sense, communication is always situated physically, in the particulars of place and time. Also, in turn, communication everywhere creates a sense of place, of the natural, of what is affirmed as emphatically and already there. Rather naturally, communication creates senses of (what is taken to be) sheer and utterly natural space. Communication can thus be conceived as radically and doubly (“placed,” as...

    • 3 To Stand Outside Oneself: The Sublime in the Discourse of Natural Scenery
      (pp. 58-75)
      Christine L. Oravec

      The twentieth century has been labeled the age of anxiety, the technological age, and even the postmodern era. A lesser-known, but perhaps more specific, label for the century that has produced such forms of communication as generative grammar, electronic mass media, and nonrepresentational art might be the age of discourse. In this century, the termdiscoursehas shed its traditional and exclusive association with continuous verbal or written prose. Instead, the term has expanded to include visual signals, nonverbal gestures, and such discontinuous fragments of signification as advertisements and product logos—in fact, all types and forms of symbolic communication.¹...

    • 4 Perceiving Environmental Discourse: The Cognitive Playground
      (pp. 76-94)
      James G. Cantrill

      In some respects, the ways in which modern environmentalists treat the promotion of policy and public awareness are similar to the stances taken by the umpires in our mythical ballpark. Most environmental advocates try to give their target publics the “facts” about ecological health and decay and typically rely upon the ability of such audiences to accept the given interpretation of evidence as if it was both gospel truth and easily understood. Research conducted by Baglan, Lalumia, and Bayless (1986) suggests that these well-intentioned advocates generally turn to ostensibly “rational” appeals when constructing arguments. Unfortunately, and as Roszak observes, “environmentalists...

    • 5 Environmental Advocacy in the Corridors of Government
      (pp. 95-122)
      Michael E. Kraft and Diana Wuertz

      As Aldous Huxley noted so well, language can be exceptionally powerful in shaping our views of the world and our responses to it. Words can influence beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions, which in turn affect the way we characterize social problems and proposed solutions. This is as true in the political system as it is in other institutional settings.

      To communicate effectively, individuals and groups must use language that can persuade, and mobilize, their intended audience. Doing so is a demanding task in public policy and a challenge that environmentalists and their adversaries know well. After twenty-five years of often contentious...

    • 6 Retalking Environmental Discourses from a Feminist Perspective: The Radical Potential of Ecofeminism
      (pp. 123-148)
      Connie Bullis

      Ecofeminism has, for the past two decades, evolved as an alternative radical environmental discourse. My purpose in this chapter is to illustrate the potential value of ecofeminism to environmental discourse. Because ecofeminism has evolved largely through its relationship with feminism, and feminism has emphasized the destabilization of patriarchal modes of discourse, ecofeminism is historically situated in a way that is not grounded in the modernist, patriarchal paradigm. In this essay I briefly describe ecofeminism, deep ecology, and social ecology, and then explore the radical potential of ecofeminist discourse to a continued conversation among them. Ecofeminism is used as a (plural)...

  5. Part II: Case Studies in Environmental Communication

    • 7 “What to Do with the Mountain People?”: The Darker Side of the Successful Campaign to Establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
      (pp. 151-175)
      Bruce J. Weaver

      In an interview almost sixty-five years later, Zenith Whaley remembered that in 1925

      he and his young classmates stood outside Greenbrier School and watched a small plane circle the Great Smoky Mountains. They stared as it seemed to stop in mid-air for several seconds, then continue on. Most of the aircraft seen from this Tennessee mountain cove passed quickly over the churches, school, and businesses that were at the center of the community life for about a hundred families. This one looked as if it were suspended from the clouds, then it passed quickly out of sight. It would be...

    • 8 Plastics as a “Natural Resource”: Perspective by Incongruity for an Industry in Crisis
      (pp. 176-197)
      Patricia Paystrup

      The photograph frames the ocher-colored angles of two pyramids against the contrasting background of a deep blue Egyptian sky. The print ad from the Environmental Challenge Fund juxtaposes this striking image of timelessness and human ingenuity with what some see as the modern world’s symbol of engineered durability—the polystyren “clamshell.” The headline claims: “Your cheeseburger box will be around even longer.” The copy block begins: “Most things made on this planet last a few centuries. But styrofoam is forever. It will never decompose. Never disintegrate. Never go away. And neither will the garbage problems it creates, unless we find...

    • 9 Valuation Analysis in Environmental Policy Making: How Economic Models Limit Possibilities for Environmental Advocacy
      (pp. 198-218)
      Tarla Rai Peterson and Markus J. Peterson

      At 12:04 A.M. on March 24, 1989, theExxon Valdezran aground on Alaska’s Bligh Reef. Rather than backing off the reef, the captain ordered the engines to be run at full speed forward. Despite his chief mate’s advice to the contrary, he held the throttle forward on sea speed for fifteen minutes before admitting defeat. At 12:27 he finally radioed the local Coast Guard’s traffic controllers, informing them that the tanker was leaking oil. At 12:30 the Coast Guard notified the Alyeska night shift superintendent of the spill.¹ Alyeska’s contingency plan stated that disaster equipment would arrive at the...

    • 10 Liberal and Pragmatic Trends in the Discourse of Green Consumerism
      (pp. 219-240)
      M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer

      Frequently viewed as a countercultural movement born of political discontent in the 1960s and 1970s, environmentalism has, in the last decade, won wide support in the United States as a collective search for a clean human habitat and a lifestyle that brings prosperity without threatening the continued existence of other life forms and ways of life (Hays, 1987; Dunlap, 1989). As Walter Truett Anderson observed, “Practically everybody today is some kind of environmentalist” (1990, p. 52). Indeed, the American people show signs of accepting environmental awareness as a core element of a national ethos.

      As it grows in strength, however,...

    • 11 The Mass Media “Discover” the Environment: Influences on Environmental Reporting in the First Twenty Years
      (pp. 241-256)
      David B. Sachsman

      The American mass media—and the media around the world, for that matter—did not think in terms of the “environment” until the end of the 1960s. Before that time newspapers and television stations would cover a week-long smog alert or, better yet, a river that was on fire, but the story produced had no real ecological connotation. It was an event story, unlinked to any concept of the global environment (Sachsman, 1973, p.2).

      There were books about the environment, most notably Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring,published in 1962, and there were magazine articles. But for the most part there...

    • 12 Media Frames and Environmental Discourse: The Case of “Focus: Logjam”
      (pp. 257-277)
      Harold P. Schlechtweg

      The upsurge in mass media interest in environmental issues over the past several years has not stilled critics, who charge that media organizations systematically shield government and corporations from responsibility for actions harmful to the environment (Lee & Solomon, 1991). For their part, journalists argue that few environmental advocates understand the conventions of daily journalism, which, they claim, limit what even the fairest and most aware correspondent can communicate about environmental controversies (Stocking & Leonard, 1990).

      While media critics often look at the informational content of newscasts and newspaper articles, or evaluate the “balanced” reporting of controversies, a continuing thread...

  6. List of Contributors
    (pp. 278-280)
  7. Index
    (pp. 281-284)