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Towards an analytical framework of
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GRADUATE INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AND DEVELOPMENT STUDIES

Discourse Analysis in Political Ecology


Towards an analytical framework of environmental controversies

DISSERTATION
Submitted in fulfilment of the requirement for the
Master in Development Studies (MDev)

by
Morgan Scoville-Simonds
(USA)

Geneva
2009
Thanks
For their support, each one in his or her own way, I would like to thank first of
all the members of my family. Their contributions covered the full range of
intervention possible, from the nitty-gritty word-level details to the ‘standing-on-the-
sidelines-cheering,’ both of which were needed and appreciated. Specifically, I would
like to thank Mom and Gary for their help in correcting the final draft.
I would also like to thank my dissertation director M. Hufty, whose
contributions likewise covered the full spectrum. This dissertation grew to its present
form out of reflections that were often inspired by his seminars.
For Jorge and Dikie and their continued friendship and support, without whom
this dissertation would literally, never take physical form.

Finally, for Claudia, who was there before the beginning, after the end, and
right behind me every step of the way; who delights in my successes, where she
should take credit, and has supported and continues to supports me in every way (or
rather, qui me supporte toujours in both senses of the word supporter).
Abstract
Building on existing work in the political ecology and discourse analysis literature,
this dissertation seeks to construct an analytical framework for the study of
controversies around environmental problems. The central arguments are that
controversies are ‘framed’ in a number of different ways, that this particular framing
influences and constrains the ways in which the problem can be discussed, and that
struggles occur not only within the frame, but over the control of the particular
framing itself. After a review of uses of discourse analysis in political ecology, we
construct an analytical framework by defining fundamental concepts of discourse, the
controversy situations we want to study, three levels of analysis, and finally three
parameters through which debate in controversies is structured.
Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Discourse in political ecology.................................................................1


1.1 Introduction........................................................................................................1
1.2 Review of the literature – a turn to discourse in political ecology?...............2
1.3 Outline of work ..................................................................................................8
Chapter 2 – Approaches and concepts of discourse analysis...................................9
2.1 Introduction........................................................................................................9
2.2 Between Foucault and Fairclough....................................................................9
2.3 Discourse and reality in political ecology.......................................................10
2.4 Fundamental discourse concepts ....................................................................12
2.5 Conclusions.......................................................................................................16
Chapter 3 – Discourse in interaction and environmental controversies...............17
3.1 Introduction......................................................................................................17
3.2 Discursive controversies ..................................................................................17
3.3 Questioning the outcomes and roles of controversies ...................................18
3.4 Conclusions.......................................................................................................20
Chapter 4 – Levels of analysis...................................................................................21
4.1 Introduction......................................................................................................21
4.2 Levels of analysis and criteria for an analytical framework........................21
4.3 Conclusions.......................................................................................................24
Chapter 5 – Analytical Framework..........................................................................25
5.1 Introduction......................................................................................................25
5.2 Modes of knowledge and of argument ...........................................................26
5.3 Terms of debate – open battles and black boxes...........................................28
5.4 Problem definition ...........................................................................................31
5.5 Summary of the analytical framework ..........................................................34
5.6 Conclusions.......................................................................................................35
Chapter 6 – Conclusions............................................................................................36
6.1 Discourses include and exclude, and so does discourse analysis .................36
6.2 Issues that were ‘organized out’ and the limits of discourse .......................36
6.3 Summary and implications of this work........................................................37
References ...................................................................................................................40
Chapter 1 – Discourse in political ecology
1.1 Introduction
Political ecology, the study of human-environment relations in a general sense,
as part of a wider post-structuralist trend, has recently incorporated various
understandings of ‘discourse’ among its analytical concepts. The present work seeks
to evaluate and contribute to this trend. We examine the use of discourse in political
ecology and suggest one way in which discourse analysis can be usefully adapted to
certain questions relevant to political ecology. Specifically, we seek to collect a
number of concepts already existing in the political ecology, discourse analysis and
other literatures into the beginning of an analytical framework for the use of discourse
analysis in studying controversies around environmental problems.
Our focus on environmental controversies guides the nature of the discourse
analysis concepts that we will choose to use and adapt. In studying these
controversies, we make two basic assumptions: 1) that the stakeholders involved hold
not only conflicting interests, but more radically, they may have fundamentally
different ideas and beliefs about the nature of the environmental problem itself, 2) that
controversies provide not only a space for the discussion and exchange of these
differing ideas, but also a space for the exercise of unequal power relations that
determine how the debate is carried out and ultimately resolved. We propose that
discourse analysis can be used to study such cases. We thus require, in general,
discursive approaches that emphasize the role of discourse in constructing world
views, address processes of discursive interaction, and reveal the various links
between discourse and power.
The approach we hope to develop crosses over and is informed by a number of
different fields of research. Constructivist strains of public policy analysis (e.g. Muller
2000) offer some insights, yet our approach more closely reflects a move toward a
perhaps more widely-applicable view of collective action and decision making
expressed within analytical studies of ‘governance’ (for an understanding of part of
this ‘move’ see Dryzek 2006, for an analytical framework for the study of governance
see Hufty 2007). Specifically, it is suggested that the concepts we collect here for the
study of controversies in general may be usefully applied in the study of ‘nodal
points’ in governance processes (Hufty 2007), inasmuch as they include the kinds of
debate situations we describe. The questions we ask may likewise be of interest for

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the study of ‘participation.’ Indeed, the intermediate variables that regulate discursive
interaction that we introduce in Chapter 5 may be useful in explaining why certain
debates find themselves higher or lower on the scale of the typology of participation
(Pretty 1995, Pimbert & Pretty 1997). This approach may also be useful to the study
of ‘social movements’ within political ecology (e.g. Peet and Watts 1996, Bryant and
Bailey 1997). Briefly stated, the hope is to construct a widely applicable framework to
the interests of political ecology.
Before beginning the conceptual work needed to define such a framework, in
the following section we examine a few examples of discourse analysis in political
ecology. This review of the literature also serves as a glimpse at what kind of
approach to discourse analysis we are looking for. The final section of this chapter
outlines the rest of the dissertation.

1.2 Review of the literature – a turn to discourse in political ecology?


The overall objective of this work is to explore what kind of usefulness the
concept of ‘discourse’ and discourse analysis could have for the field of political
ecology. This said, given that the terms ‘discourse’ and ‘discourse analysis’ appear
already in the political ecology literature, in can be said that discourse ideas have had
some influence within this field. This section will explore the uncertain status of
‘discourse’ ideas in political ecology and allow us to further refine just what kind of
‘discourse analysis’ we intend to adopt.
The general tendency towards poststructuralist ideas within political ecology
has brought about a coinciding interest in discourse. This ‘turn to discourse’ can be
seen as a response to questions that, in some ways, have been lurking in political
ecology for some time. As Peet and Watts (1996: 11) put it, a focus on discourse
responds to a desire for political ecology ‘to tackle head on Blaikie and Brookfield’s
point about the plurality of perceptions and definitions of environmental and resource
problems.’ The nature of such questions that were asked, if not fully ‘tackled,’ in
Blaikie and Brookfield (1987) in fact renders problematic identifying any
‘structuralist phase’ of political ecology (cf. Walker 2005: 74). So it can be said that
questions to which discourse analysis attempts to respond have been of interest to
political ecology for some time.
This said, the use of discourse analysis in political ecology has at times been
less than methodical. We begin the review of the literature with an examination of

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certain tendencies in the use of discourse analysis in political ecology that we will not
pursue, and gradually progress towards examples that bear closer resemblance to the
approach we suggest.

Ambiguous and normative uses of ‘discourse’


The use of ‘discourse’ and ‘discourse analysis’ within political ecology has
not always been the most rigorous. To unfairly target just one example (Sundberg
2003), we find, in a section titled ‘Theoretical approach and methodology’, that the
terms ‘discourse’, ‘narrative’, ‘agenda’, ‘representations’, ‘models of reality’, ‘truths’,
‘vocabulary’, ‘articulation of identity’ and ‘practices’ are used without definition and
in sometimes synonymous and confusing ways (52-3). Beyond a tendency towards
ambiguity, there is also a tendency in political ecology, deriving from a healthy sense
of critique, to use the term ‘discourse’ itself in a pejorative sense, as if the only people
who make use of discourse (which is to say, who use language) are northern
developers, political elites, and other interventionists, whose abstract ideas can only
be detrimental to local realities. Hornborg (2005) for example, to again unfairly target
one case, identifies a ‘fundamental polarity between local and nonlocal interests,
incentives, and perspectives, in which the nonlocal tends to be represented by abstract
discourse far removed from the experiential realities of local meanings and life
worlds’ (196). Less is said about the locals’ own ‘abstract discourses’, or the ‘local
meanings and life worlds’ of development agents. While Hornborg makes valid points
about links between power, discourse, and practice, the implication that discourse is
necessarily ‘abstract’ and ‘removed’ from local ‘realities’ and serves mostly as a tool
of the powerful or a corrupting influence on the marginal is implicit here and in many
cases.
In fact, the critiques and insights of both Sundberg and Hornborg are actually
quite interesting contributions, and in any case the point of this dissertation is not to
begin an analysis of the discourses produced by political ecologists. Our aim rather is
not to disparage but to encourage such work, showing the ways in which political
ecology has greatly benefited from discourse ideas, and more critically, how it could
continue to do so in perhaps more rigorous ways. For the moment, we suggest from
these two cases that 1) discourse, being a term so widely applied, should in the least
be defined, and 2) it should be applied as an analytical concept, and as such, as free

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from normative uses as possible. We hope to adequately fulfill these two criteria in
our discussion in the following chapters.

Discourse analysis for the deconstruction of terms


Another approach is to use discourse analysis to deconstruct the meaning of
individual terms such as ‘biodiversity.’ As we will suggest in Chapter 5, the meaning
of individual terms may have great influence within controversies and thus should
themselves be closely examined. Exemplary work in this vein includes the
deconstruction of preconceived ideas of ‘scarcity’ (Yapa 1996) and of ‘tropical rain
forest’ (Stott 1999). These two works go a long way to exposing the underpinnings of
unexamined ideas in ‘Western’ society. However, while Stott’s historical
deconstruction of ‘tropical rain forest’ examines the accumulation and evolution of
differing views of this term through Western history, the potential conflict between
these differing views is not examined. In our view, the historical examination that
Stott gives would have been further nuanced by examining the processes of
controversy through which differing definitions gained acceptance and achieved
differing levels of relative influence.
While the merit of these works should be considered in their own right, we
feel that the investigation into the construction of specific terms should be done in
relation to contrasting views and by taking into account the discursive struggles that
take place over the definition of these terms. One could certainly see the usefulness of
the application of such work to understanding ‘Western’ views in environmental
debates, but this movement from one-sided examination (if admirably reflexive) to
understanding situations of discursive interaction as we address in this work is not
made explicit. In sum, these works can be seen as good examples of the
deconstruction of individual terms, but do not approach the sort of discursive
‘interaction’ that interests us here. Further examples that more closely correspond to
our approach will be examined in the next two sections.

Identifying competing discourses – a first level analysis


We here review an example of discourse analysis that begins to correspond to
what we see as the first level of analysis of discourses in controversies; identifying
and characterizing competing discourses (our levels of analysis are introduced in
Chapter 4). In an article that is often cited in the political ecology literature on

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discourse analysis, Adger et al. (2001) present a straightforward example of
identifying and comparing discourses. They identify two ‘main discourses’ in
environmental debate; a dominant ‘global environmental management’ discourse, and
a ‘populist’ counterdiscourse. The two differ mostly in terms of their identification of
the causes, impacts, and proposed solutions of environmental issues such as
deforestation and biodiversity use (bio-prospecting/piracy). They identify and
describe a ‘global environmental management’ discourse which focuses on external
interventions to solve what it sees as global problems requiring global solutions
through international action, regulatory frameworks, and neo-liberal market-based
mechanisms. This discourse is contrasted with a ‘populist’ one which accuses the
interventionist tendencies in the first discourse, as well as capitalism in general, of
causing environmental problems in the first place, and looks to the ‘sustainable’
practices of local populations for solutions. (686-706)
Interestingly, the authors state that neither the ‘global environmental
management’ nor the supposedly ‘populist’ discourse sufficiently explains the
complexity of causes, effects, and interests of stakeholders in environmental problems
at the local level. They criticize the two discourses for being too ‘generalizing’ and
not reflecting local realities (708-9). This comparison between the ‘discourse’ and the
‘reality’ of scientific explanations of environmental problems in some ways reflects
the work of Forsyth (2003: 24-43) who identifies a number of ‘environmental
orthodoxies’ and shows that they have limited explanatory value in terms of effects on
conservation and social impacts. This is not to say that these discourses have no
relation with local reality, rather, that the relationship is not one of ‘explanatory
value.’ In continuing their research, Brown (2002) suggests that beliefs from the two
discourses described in Adger et al. have strongly influenced, if not determined, the
proposal of management strategies for protected area policies at the local level. Here
we see evidence of another important feature of our approach, the influence of
discourses in controversy and the effectiveness controversy in the wider world (see
Chapter 3).
The analysis of Adger et al. can be seen as a basic approach to discourse
analysis which rests on identifying distinct discourses and showing on what points
they are in controversy. To push the analysis a step further to explore the limits of
their approach, we examine not the points of divergence between the discourses

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identified, but rather their commonalities. We find that the discourses they identify are
in fact based on the following implicit points of agreement (summarized from 701-6):
- global environmental issues such as deforestation, climate change, and
desertification exist as real problems
- these problems constitute crises causing irreversible environmental changes
- these changes will negatively affect both humankind and the biosphere
The first statement seems to us to be by far the most fundamental, the agreement on a
mutually-accepted problem. The authors do concede that marginalized ‘denial claims’
exist, particularly in the case of climate change, according to which certain
environmental problems are not severe or simply do not exist in the way described by
these discourses. However, the authors do not explore this further, and their
identification of discourses is restricted to the identification of opposing positions on a
mutually-accepted problem.
In this way, the analysis by Adger et al. unfortunately excludes an examination
of the discourses produced by ‘radical’ denial claims and perhaps other contrasting
views. Considering the exclusion of these views and the points of agreement between
the two discourses, it could be said that even the populist view described here enjoys a
certain dominance. To exclude from analysis other positions that in fact form part of
the controversy gives, at best, an incomplete understanding of the debate at hand; at
worst, it may in some ways contribute to their continued exclusion. We must then be
wary of a certain tendency in discourse analysis, despite its claim to ‘critique’, to
preferentially examine dominant views (Dryzek 2006: 195). It should then be kept in
mind that in identifying ‘general’ or ‘main’ discourses, that the process of
identification and generalization itself paints a certain picture of reality that puts
emphasis on certain aspects and excludes others. By not considering the full diversity
of discourses implicated, we feel that Adger et al. do not give a complete picture of
breadth of the controversy.
If this analysis lacks in breadth, it lacks in depth as well. The excluded
discourses, those of ‘marginalized denial claims,’ are precisely the views that call into
question the nature (or existence) of the problem itself. While Adger et al. (2001: 706)
show how the populist discourse is able to exert some control over the terms of debate
to include questions of land rights, participation, and empowerment, the controversy
over the definition of the problem is not addressed. These two questions, ‘terms of
debate’ and ‘problem definition’ will be important for the development of the

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analytical framework in Chapter 5. For the moment we may say that further attention
to the nature of the controversy over the definition of the problem would have added
depth to this analysis.

Identifying competing discourses – questioning the definition of the problem


The following example even more closely approximates the discursive
approach we envisage. An approach that takes into account more directly varying
views on the definition of environmental problems is that of Escobar (1998). In his
analysis, he treats the concept of ‘biodiversity’ itself as a historically produced
discourse, identifying the textual origins and primary documents that exist within the
discourse (notably, the Convention on Biological Diversity). He continues by
elaborating three positions produced by the ‘biodiversity network’ (two of which
coincide somewhat with the discourses in Adger et al. above). A fourth position, the
focus of his paper, is held by social movements that recognize and are fully aware of
the ‘hegemonic construct’ of the biodiversity discourse, yet actively appropriate and
engage with the fundamental issues of the dominant discourse. These social
movements have been successful in defining and advancing their own concepts as part
of their political project. Notably, in making use of the key institutions and concepts
of the biodiversity discourse (such as the CBD and local conservation organizations),
the social movements Escobar describes seek to redefine the problem of ‘biodiversity’
as ‘territory plus culture’ (Escobar 1998: 70).
In Escobar’s description, then, the hegemony of the biodiversity discourse is
incomplete. The dominant discourse succeeds to some extent in framing the
biodiversity debate, yet fails to retain complete control over the definition of the
central problem-issue itself, ‘biodiversity.’ Whereas the ‘populist’ discourse described
in Adger et al. succeeds in influencing certain policies of the dominant discourse, the
definition of the problem is left unscathed and social conflict rests on the level of
searching for new solutions, or at best introducing new terms, not redefining
problems.
An awareness of the importance of problem definitions in discourse analysis
like Escobar’s allows a broader understanding of the diversity of positions within the
debate and a deeper understanding of what is contested. Compared to the approach of
Adger et al., what Escobar adds to the description (and in this case, what social
movements bring to the debate), is a more nuanced depiction of the plurality of views,

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including those that call into question what other discourses simply consider
‘common ground’, self-evident truths, or in any case, parts of the debate that are
already ‘closed.’
In this way, we can see that a debate or conflict of views can occur on
different levels. While two discourses like those described by Adger et al. may on one
level seem like complete contradictions (need for global interventionist solutions vs.
the virtue of local sustainable practices), the conflict itself is only analyzed down to
the level of the ‘terms of debate,’ and these discourses in fact can be seen as
concordant on another level, that of the definition of the problem-issue. In this, we do
not mean to say that discourses that call into question the terms of debate and the
definition of the problem must exist and must be identified by the analyst, we rather
suggest that these other positions could exist, and that not being aware of their
possibility may cause them to escape identification. Further, that the extent to which
these positions do not exist suggests that a certain ‘discursive closure’ (Hajer 1997)
has been agreed upon or imposed, and that the case of non-contestation is as much a
question of power relations in discourse as the contrary case.
This final example has illustrated at least a part of what we want to be able to
do with the analytical framework. However, in introducing the concepts of ‘terms of
debate’ and ‘problem definitions’ we have gotten quite a bit ahead of ourselves. The
final section of this chapter will sketch out the overall outline of this work. This
outline shows the more methodical way that we intend to gather and adapt the
concepts needed to construct the analytical framework.

1.3 Outline of work


This chapter has served to introduce in a very general way the objective of our
work, the development of conceptual tools for the analysis of discourse in
environmental controversies. Chapter 2 will introduce what kind of discourse analysis
we are talking about, as well as defining the fundamental concepts of discourse
analysis we will use. Chapter 3 is dedicated to defining and characterizing the object
of analysis, controversies over environmental problems. Three levels of analysis on
which these controversies should be studied are described in Chapter 4, along with a
certain number of criteria for the development of the analytical framework itself. The
full analytical framework is finally described in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 concludes with
an evaluation of our work and a number of directions for further research.

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Chapter 2 – Approaches and concepts of discourse analysis
2.1 Introduction
In this chapter we turn to the discussion and definition of a certain number of
concepts that we feel are fundamental to using discourse analysis in political ecology
to examine controversies around environmental issues. The project we announced in
the beginning properly begins here and continues through the rest of the work. We
have collected these ideas from a variety of sources, some within political ecology
itself, but most of them from different approaches to discourse analysis in the
literature. We have paid little attention to attempting to stay within the limits of one
paradigm or another and this discussion is therefore decidedly eclectic. However, we
have specifically chosen definitions that take into account the interactive and political
nature of discourse, in keeping with our interest in controversies.
We begin by situating the two major sources of our understanding of
discourse, continue with a discussion of a tension that exists between these two
understandings of discourse, and finish with a series of definitions of the fundamental
concepts. The fundamental building blocks begin in this final section and will be
continued in the following chapters, where we will extend and add on to this
conceptual ‘toolset.’

2.2 Between Foucault and Fairclough


We will base most of our understanding of discourse analysis on the work of
Norman Fairclough, as most fully expressed in his work Discourse and Social
Change (1993). There, he clearly announces and begins his project to find some
middle ground between Foucault’s philosophical and historical treatment of discourse
and a more text-based linguistic one. We see his work as responding to a certain rift
that seems to exist between the broad strokes of Foucault’s understanding of discourse
and the linguistic tradition. This may in part stem from Foucault’s expressed views on
a lack of interest in ‘text,’ in preferring ‘relations of power, not relations of meaning’
in his historical examinations (Foucault 1980: 114).
A few brief examples serve to demonstrate that Foucualt’s ideas of discourse
and those of linguistics are not generally combined. In searching for an approach that
incorporates some insights from Foucault and yet includes a certain focus real
instances of language use, we naïvely began with the idea that if such an approach
existed it would be called ‘sociolinguistics.’ Yet, in the 532-page Handbook of

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Sociolinguistics (Coulmas 1997), the name Foucault appears three times (169, 184,
362), each time in passing. Somewhat more reassuring is to find in the 851-page
Handbook of Discourse Analysis (Schiffrin, Tannen & Hamilton 2001) that
Foucault’s work is cited as ‘highly influential’, on the one page on which his name
appears (542). Finally, in the two-volume Discourse Studies: a Multidisciplinary
Introduction (van Dijk 1997a,b), the only chapter that treats Foucault with more than
a passing reference is coauthored by Norman Fairclough and Ruth Wodak.
In contrast, much of the work on discourse in political ecology cites Foucault,
and seems to use his work more as a philosophical background or a general spirit of
critique, including most of the examples that we illustrated in the previous chapter. In
general, the understanding of discourse present in political ecology refers more
directly to the Foucauldian tradition than to the linguistic one. However, as Fairclough
(1993: 38) states, the ideas of Foucault are difficult to apply outright in concrete
cases. Our project then, is to find some middle ground between the Foucauldian and
linguistic approaches and to consider different contributions from recent work in
discourse analysis that can be applied to our interest in environmental controversies.
We will neither attempt to fully engage a ‘social theory of language’ (nor a
‘linguistic theory of society’), nor will we present more technical linguistic analysis
methods that study, for example, individual word-meanings, conversational turn-
taking, or the effect of grammar on meaning. We suggest that such methods do,
however, have their place, and nothing prevents one from using the insights we
describe in this dissertation as a starting point for further, more linguistic analyses1. In
the present work we are, rather, interested in putting together a number of fairly
accessible concepts that would permit researchers in political ecology without a
background in linguistics (such as ourselves) to usefully analyze the role of different
discourses in situations of discursive controversies over environmental problems.

2.3 Discourse and reality in political ecology


We feel it is necessary to at least mention a tension or debate that exists in
discourse analysis that is especially pertinent to a field like political ecology where
human-environment relations take center stage, necessarily invoking both social and

1
For such linguistic approaches, see the two ‘handbooks’ and the two-volume collection already
mentioned (Coulmas 1997, Schiffrin et al 2001, van Dijk 1997a,b). For the application of discourse
analysis to a variety of ‘media,’ see Parker et al. 1999.

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material realities. The debate can be simplified in the question: do we simply use
language to refer to or reflect reality, or does language construct the reality that we
know and that we experience? A movement from the former toward the latter view is
apparent in Foucault’s formulation of his project,
of no longer treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements
referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically
form the objects of which they speak. Of course, discourses are composed of
signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things
(Foucault 1972: 48).

Fairclough identifies Foucault’s insistence on the formation of objects in discourse as


the ‘constitutive view,’ insights from which he cautiously integrates into his socially-
aware discourse analysis:
While I accept that both ‘objects’ and social subjects are shaped by discursive
practices, I would wish to insist that these practices are constrained by the fact
that they inevitably take place within a constituted, material reality, with
preconstituted ‘objects’ and preconstituted social subjects. The constitutive
processes of discourse ought therefore to be seen in terms of a dialectic, in
which the impact of discursive practice depends upon how it interacts with the
preconstituted reality... Here again, analyses of real practice and real text are
an important corrective to Foucault’s overstatement of the constitutive effects
of discourse. (Fairclough 1993: 60, emphasis added)

Elsewhere (Fairclough 1993: 39), he clearly identifies the constitutive effects of


discourse as one of Foucault’s primary contributions to a more ‘socially aware’
discourse analysis. We feel that Fairclough’s formulation responds well and in tune
with the critical realist perspective current in political ecology: that a ‘presocial’
reality exists outside of human reflection, but that our knowledge of reality is ‘always
situated, contingent, and mediated’ (Neumann 2005: 50)2. Further, that the extent to
which objects and subjects are formed or constituted through discourse is in some
ways limited or determined by underlying aspects of reality.
Authors in political ecology have not failed to critically engage in this
discussion. While Peet and Watts do not formulate a full approach to discourse
analysis, their work is often cited by those doing discourse analysis in political
ecology. In terms of the debate that we are evoking, they postulate that,

2
Cf. Forsyth 2003: 71-2, Zimmerer & Bassett 2003: 3. The epistemological debate within and outside
of political ecology over critical realism is beyond the scope of this work. For an overview of the
debate on the compatibility of discourse ideas and critical realism see Laclau & Bhaskar 1998. For a
more complete view of ‘critical realism’ in general see Bhaskar 1978[1975], Sayer 2000, and, within
political ecology, Proctor 1998.

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the environment itself is an active constituent of imagination, and the
discourses themselves assume regional forms that are, as it were, thematically
organized by natural contexts. In other words, there is not an imaginary made
in some separate ‘social’ realm, but an environmental imaginary, or rather
whole complexes of imaginaries, with which people think, discuss, and
contend threats to their livelihoods... (Peet and Watts 1996: 37)

They therefore put even more emphasis on the importance of material reality in the
formation of discourse than Fairclough, in calling the environment an ‘active
constituent’ rather than a simply a context of material objects. This said, we feel that
Fairclough’s conception of a dialectic between ‘preconstituted reality’ and the
‘constitutive processes of discourse’ usefully captures a sense of the co-construction
of discourse and avoids determinisms from either side. While maintaining an interest
(for later research) in the possibly active role of ‘place’ in discourse, we retain for the
moment Fairclough’s general understanding of the relationship between discourse and
‘presocial’ reality. This view is reflected in our definitions of ‘discourse’ and
‘discourses’ below

2.4 Fundamental discourse concepts


In the following definitions, we should say that the intention is not to recreate,
reinvent, or even contribute in any significant way to discourse theory itself. Rather
we take a more modest and practical approach in seeking ‘working’ definitions. We
mean ‘working’ both in the sense of ‘tentative, provisory’, and, literally, definitions
that ‘work.’ This is to say, we are interested in concepts that are useful in the sense
that they help us to understand the world. Ironically, what we have just said, ‘concepts
that allow us to understand the world’ is a fitting phrase with which to start our
discussion of three concepts basic to discourse analysis.

Discourse
Here we will attempt to define the understanding of discourse that we will use
in this dissertation. Defining ‘discourse’ is no small task (for a book-length discussion
of the meanings of ‘discourse’ see Mills 2004). But it seems by most definitions
discourse has at least something to do with language. In fact, Fairclough (1993)
defines discourse as ‘spoken or written language use.’ This definition sounds pretty
‘linguistic’, and frankly, mundane, yet in Fairclough’s work it becomes obvious that
his understanding of discourse goes beyond the face value of this definition. Our

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problem with this definition is that, while language is certainly central to discourse,
discourse is not in our view reducible to language alone.
It seems to us that there are other ways of creating, suggesting, and assigning
meaning than through language (though language is certainly one important way). In
this we may refer to another definition, found within the ‘Essex school’ that is based
on Laclau and Mouffe (1985) and continuing work, which understands discourse as
‘systems of meaningful practices’ (Howarth & Stavrakakis 2000: 3). We understand
this more broad definition as clearly recognizing that people not only ‘do things with
words,’ (as Austin 1976[1962] has shown), they also ‘say things with what they do.’
We then derive from the two definitions above, and take as a working
definition of discourse, language in use. In this we assume that language is the
primary practice through which meaning is created and assigned, and by ‘in use’ we
mean to suggest that language is never used alone but rather enacted as part of a larger
social practice. Fairclough clarifies this by explaining that discourse should be
considered as something different from social (economic, political, cultural...)
practices, but rather that different social practices are to varying degrees discursive in
their modes of action (1993: 66). This definition should be considered in conjunction
with the following definition as well, since the idea of discourse can in some ways be
better understood by its manifestations.

Discourses
We make a distinction, as others do, between discourse as a general term and
discourses or a discourse as specific formations or products of the processes of
discourse. Again, there are many different definitions in the literature, and we have
chosen just one that seems the most workable for our needs. According to Hajer, a
discourse is,
a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categorizations that are produced,
reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of practices through which
meaning is given to physical and social realities. (Hajer 1997: 44)

We note here again the relation to ‘practices.’ We find this definition compatible with
that of discourse in general described above as language in use. We note also the
central importance of discourse’s role in ‘giving’ meaning to realities, which is to say,
that actors make sense of the world through the ‘ideas, concepts, and categorizations’
available to them in discourses (ibid. 53). As Fairclough (1993: 62) more eloquently

- 13 -
puts it, ‘[d]iscourse is a practice not just of representing the world, but of signifying
the world, constituting and constructing the world in meaning.’ Discourses then are
also to be understood as systems of signification through which reality is understood
(e.g. Milliken 1999).
We should clarify here that we do not think of discourses as reified entities,
existing outside of human thought, and expressing themselves in different ways
through its ‘subjects’ (see for example the criticisms expressed in Burr 1995: 175). In
our understanding, discourses only exist inasmuch and as long as people continue to
produce, reproduce, transform, and use them. The traces of practices of production
and transformation are however observable in what people do and say and indeed
their use as ways of understanding the world may guide actors’ choices. It is in this
sense that treating discourses as research objects is to be considered. Thus far we have
suggested that discourse is social (part of social practices and interaction) and
cognitive (forming ideas and ways of seeing the world). We now turn to one way in
which discourse is political.

Beyond dominant discourses – Power struggles and resistance


While many authors have recognized the need for a politically-aware approach
to discourse analysis, the focus is often on the identification of so-called dominant
discourses and questions of ‘hegemony’ (e..g. Fairclough 1993, van Dijk 1993,
Howarth & Stavrakakis 2000). Indeed the use of discourse analysis in political
ecology has often focused on the identification of dominant discourses and
corresponding ‘counter-discourses’ (e.g. Adger et al. 2001, Escobar 1998 discussed in
Chapter 1). What is closer to the interest of this work is the study of different
discourses in controversies, which is to say, in active debate and struggle. In this,
certainly an identification of concurrent or competing discourses around a given
problem would be a first step, and there may well be certain discourses that exert a
level of dominance or hegemony over a certain problem domain.
However, what we need is an approach to discourse that goes beyond the
identification of static discourses and addresses the use of discourse in interaction.
That is to say, situations in which discourses come into conflict or cooperation and
through which occur changes and reformulations of the discourses, perceptions, and
practices of the various stakeholders involved. We discuss further in the next chapter
the nature of environmental controversies that this framework intends to address. For

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the moment, it suffices to say that what is needed is a more dynamic employment of
discourse analysis that goes beyond the identification of dominant and counter-
discourses to the study of discourse in interaction. Such a dynamic approach to
discourse in interaction requires a compatible and equally dynamic approach to power
in interaction.
For this, we turn to Foucault’s understanding of power as a fluid, shifting
system of relations:
Par pouvoir, il me semble qu’il faut comprendre d’abord la multiplicité des
rapports de force qui sont immanents au domaine où ils s’exercent, et sont
constitutifs de leur organisation; le jeu qui par voie de luttes et d’affrontements
incessants les transforme, les renforce, les inverse; les appuis que ces rapports
de force trouvent les uns dans les autres, de manière à former chaîne ou
système, ou, au contraire, les décalages, les contradictions qui les isolent les
uns des autres; les stratégies enfin dans lesquelles ils prennent effet, et dont le
dessin général ou la cristallisation institutionnelle prennent corps dans les
appareils étatiques, dans la formulation de la loi, dans les hégémonies sociales.
(Foucault 1976: 121-2).

This more general understanding of power as a dynamic web of shifting relations


includes yet is more fundamental than the various forms that different configurations
of power may take up (the ‘cristallisations institutionnelles’ of states, laws,
hegemonies, etc.). More generally, power is something that is exercised between two
or more actors in a given strategic situation. Power is exercised by and through actors,
specifically, through the various relations (social, economic, etc.) that are created,
maintained, and evolve between the actors involved (Foucault 1976: 121-3; 1980: 98).
What specific effects of power should be studied in our approach to discourse
analysis? In a general way we may understand the relationship between power and
discourse as both power over discourse and power through discourse. Concerning the
former, we understand power over discourse as the ability to determine, constrain, or
encourage the possible range of language in use. The power to provide or limit the
‘ideas, concepts, and categories’ that are available or acceptable to actors in given
contexts. The power to define terms and the issues of debate (like what ‘forest’
means), further, the power to invent or create new concepts (like the neologism
‘biodiversity’) and have them accepted and taken up by other actors. The general
proposition is to study the power relations that determine control over the overall
‘rules of the game’ that variably constrain or encourage the possibilities of what can
be said, by whom, in what contexts.

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Secondly, by power through discourse, we mean all of the secondary effects
that arise from those described above. What happens when certain ‘ideas, concepts,
and categories’ are included or excluded, encouraged or constrained? What objectives
are served, when, for example, an issue is defined as a technical, scientific problem
rather than as a social or economic one? What are the wider effects, both intentional
and unintentional, of specific uses of discourse? More specifically of interest here,
what are the real outcomes, changes in perceptions and practices, that result from this
control over the overall ‘rules of the game’ of discourse use?
The questions we have briefly introduced here about the role of power over
and through discourse will be more directly examined in the following chapters
(especially Chapter 5) as they relate to our specific concerns. Though the link between
power and discourse underlies the themes of this work, it is beyond its scope to
address this question in a more general way. Rather, we hope to explore in the
following chapters a few ways in which power is exercised over and through
discourse in the specific situation of environmental controversies.

2.5 Conclusions
In the previous chapter we suggested that the terms we will use should be
formulated in well-defined, non-normative ways. In attempting to keep to these
criteria, we have introduced definitions of the fundamental concepts of discourse,
discourses, and power in discourse. This chapter has introduced more clearly and
begun to some extent our project: to assemble a number of concepts from discourse
analysis into a framework appropriate for the analysis of environmental controversies.
The following chapters will introduce a number of other concepts that will build upon
this basic set of ideas. Specifically, the next chapter introduces the contexts in which
we propose to use discourse analysis.

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Chapter 3 – Discourse in interaction and environmental controversies
3.1 Introduction
This chapter will seek to present the object of analysis that interests us,
discursive interaction in controversies around environmental issues. First, why focus
on interaction? As we briefly mentioned in the previous chapter, the idea of discourse
extends both ‘above’ and ‘below’ the strictly-linguistic level to include social and
political concerns as well as cognitive aspects of different ways of conceptualizing the
world. Briefly, discourse is not only used to communicate, it is also used to
understand the world, and perhaps to influence others into seeing the world in a
certain way. Yet for each of these different facets of the term discourse and for the
analysis of power, interaction between actors and between discourses themselves is
fundamental. We feel that it is in interaction that various discourses are exposed,
expressed, constructed, and reformulated, and that power is exercised, contested, and
negotiated.
In particular, an examination of situations of controversy may permit a
particularly heightened understanding of the processes in which discourse is used in
dynamic and interactive ways, power relations are exerted in interaction, and more
generally the relationships between discourse and power may be explored. More
practically, controversies serve as contexts in which environmental problems are
formulated, contested, and discussed and, ultimately, through which important things
like environmental policy decisions are determined. The following section introduces
the characteristics of these controversies.

3.2 Discursive controversies


What kinds of interactions do we mean to explore? We attempt to develop an
analytical framework (in the following chapters) that would be useful in the study of a
fairly wide range of situations of discourse in interaction: various kinds of debates,
public policy discussions, participatory forums, negotiations, etc. More generally,
what we envisage is a way of looking at multi-stakeholder situations, centered upon
specific environmental problems, in which differing views are expressed by reference
to and employment of differing discourses, and within which different relations of
power are exercised in intentional, strategic, as well as unintentional, unforeseen
ways. Such situations most closely resemble ‘controversy’ (e.g. Callon et al. 2001)
which may be expressed and ‘debated’ in different contexts and forms.

- 17 -
Here we summarize the characteristics of the objects we propose to study;
controversies are defined as,
- multi-stakeholder – multiple actors concerned in one way or another express
differing views on a number of related issues.
- problem-oriented – at the center of the controversy is to be found one or more
problem-issues that guide and justify debate.
- discursive – the controversy takes place through discourse (language in use),
but also that in the course of debate actors call upon differing discourses,
which are thereby reformulated, imposed, rejected, or adopted.
- political – in a general sense, power relations between actors are exercised
within the controversy, but also, the controversy has further political
implications for wider societal groups (see the following).
- effective – the controversy produces various effects or outcomes. Decisions are
made, problems are solved, policies are enunciated, perceptions are changed,
discourses are reformulated, relationships between actors are formed,
identities are mobilized, concretized, or reformulated.
In this work we will also use the word debate, which is to be understood as the
various kinds of discursive interaction that take place within the controversy, its
manifestations in more everyday form. Controversy then may be restricted to the form
of a single, ‘real debate’ where certain actors are gathered and engage in discourse, or
the more abstract interaction between conflicting discourses as is understood when
one refers to, for example, the ‘climate change controversy’ that may occur on a
larger societal scale and involve ‘debates’ that occur in various contexts.

3.3 Questioning the outcomes and roles of controversies


In the various bodies of literature that treat controversy and debate situations
in various forms (participatory forums, public policy debates, etc.), it seems that there
is a wide disparity of views about what the effects, outcomes, purposes, or finalities of
controversies are. More generally, the role that controversies play in society is not
widely agreed upon. The most obvious answer is that controversies tend towards the
resolution of problems, or in any case, that their role in society is to address and
attempt to solve societal problems. While ‘problem-solving’ may indeed be one of the
roles or at least outcomes of controversies, other views exist.

- 18 -
Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe (2001) discuss a number of different (generally
positive) effects or roles of controversies. In the face of the uncertainty in decision
making that controversies embody, the functions of controversies are multiple. First,
they permit a sort of collective ‘exploration’ in which the identities, knowledge, and
interests of actors are expressed, reformulated and concretized. Similarly,
controversies are the space in which the identification and (re)formulation of
problems themselves and the range of possible solutions are explored (ibid. 49-60). In
the dialogic space that controversies provide, the central problem may not in fact be
solved, indeed, uncertainty may be reduced or even increased (ibid. 48, cf. Hajer &
Laws 2006). A number of effects that the ‘problem-solving’ view would probably
consider secondary are in the authors’ view highlighted as of central importance: the
creation and reformulation of actors’ identities, the sharing of different yet
complementary types of knowledge (‘lay’ and ‘expert’), and the creation of sense in
the controversy situation. Finally, if there is any finality to controversies, it is not
simply the solving of problems, but more generally, the exploration of ‘possible
worlds’ and ultimately, the construction of a livable shared world for society (Callon
et al. 2001: 58-60).
The above discussion should be considered a suggestive list of possible
outcomes that calls into question the view of controversies as a process focused on or
resulting in problem solving. In general then, in not every case, for example, will clear
decisions be made or the central problems solved, but some outcomes will certainly
result, whether they correspond to actors’ objectives or not. Indeed, as we will show
further on, which problem is, or ‘ought to be’, at the center of debate, and how it is
defined, may itself be a question of controversy. For the moment two points should be
made about the effects or outcomes of controversies:
- Actors not only have differing interests in the sense that some favor one
solution to ‘the problem’ and others favor another. More generally, some
actors may be seeking a particular solution, while others are interested in
simply ‘being there’ to maintain some form of authority, others, interested in
promoting and maintaining an atmosphere of ‘debate’ in order in fact to avoid
coming to a solution. In brief, the objectives of various actors, and therefore
the effects or outcomes sought and produced may be numerous and diverse.
- While some outcomes and effects will more or less correspond to the
objectives of certain actors, other outcomes may in fact have nothing to do

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with the objectives of any of the actors present. Inadvertent effects, such as
changed perceptions of the actors involved, may be unexpected or
unavoidable.
Briefly put, we prefer to abstain from delimiting for the moment what the purposes
and outcomes of debates may be. We rather take the view that controversies may
serve a number of different purposes. While we suppose that controversies have at
their center and origin one or more social problems, these particular problems may not
be those most important to all stakeholders involved, that these problems may indeed
seem irrelevant to certain actors, and ultimately, that the ‘outcomes’ of debates may
not be, or may not only be, in the form of ‘problems solved.’ The question of the
definition of the problem will be discussed in more depth in a later chapter. We have
attempted to express in this section that a more open view of the analysis of
controversies as having diverse outcomes may permit a more flexible understanding
of the strategies of various actors, the reasons why some controversies remain
‘unresolved,’ and generally the role of controversy in society.

3.4 Conclusions
In this chapter we began with our general interest in studying discourse in
interaction and further delimited the object or situations in which we intend to use a
specific form of discourse analysis. These are multi-stakeholder, problem-oriented,
discursive, political, effective controversies that take form in a number of physical or
virtual debate situations. In further discussing the question of how these controversies
are ‘effective,’ we took up a position, in qualifying the view of debates as forms of
problem-solving, that allows one to consider a multitude of intentional and
unintentional outcomes of controversy. The following chapter will begin the task of
adapting the concepts developed in the previous chapter to these types of controversy
situations.

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Chapter 4 – Levels of analysis
4.1 Introduction
Having described the types of situations that we want to study, discourse
interaction in controversies, we now begin to construct, from existing concepts in the
literature, a useable framework of analysis. In order to take into account the various
attributes of the kinds of controversies discussed above, a fairly flexible approach to
discourse analysis is needed. What is proposed in this work should be seen as the
general outline of an approach, to be completed by methods in various fields.
In fact, the approach should be seen as a compromise on two different levels.
On one level, as mentioned in Chapter 2, it is situated somewhere on the continuum
between (and humbly below) Foucault’s sweeping historical analyses of discourses,
and text-based discourse analysis, exemplified by Fairclough (1993). This approach
then should be informed by work in the Foucauldian tradition of historical discursive
trends in order to understand the context to the more locally-bound discourses and
controversies. On the other hand, it should be completed and put into action through
more specific methods of text-based discourse analysis (not discussed in this work).
On another level, this approach in some ways crosses over the domains of interest to
the analysis of discourse and analyses typical to the fields of public policy,
governance, and conflict studies, in proposing to study discursive interaction in
controversies. This approach should likewise be further completed and informed by
work in these related fields.
The objective, then, is to make a link between a form of discourse analysis that
rests on the identification of discourses and the analysis of controversies. This and the
following chapter are dedicated to the development of such an approach. To begin, we
describe a number of levels on which the analysis can be carried out, as well as
formulating criteria for the framework itself.

4.2 Levels of analysis and criteria for an analytical framework


In examining discourses in debate situations we should first ask ourselves
about the nature of the conflict, or lack thereof, on a number of different levels. What,
specifically, is being debated, or called into question, and on what terms is it
discussed? What is not or not explicitly being debated or called into question, and why
are these questions left unexamined? Has agreement been met, or are contrary views
excluded? Are those who would express divergent views present in the debate? If so,

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are their claims accepted as ‘legitimate’ and ‘credible’? Finally, how is the control
over each of these questions determined? To what extent are they determined and
inflexible, and what margins for resistance, negotiation, and alliance exist?
While the concepts of discourse and power that we have briefly described in
Chapter 2 are fundamental, what is needed to address these kinds of questions is a
number of more specific concepts adapted to the study of discourse use in
controversies in a general way. We briefly describe here the desired functionality of
such a framework and how it could be used, whereas the next chapter will introduce
the contents of the proposed framework. We suggest three levels of analysis, each of
which imposes certain requirements on the framework we intend to propose.

On a first level of analysis, we would like to have a framework for the


identification of discourses. What we seek is an overall guide or ‘grille de lecture’ that
should inform a more detailed text-based DA. The objective of this stage would be to
identify more or less distinct discourses and to characterize them in terms of a
standard set of parameters (discussed in the next chapter). This stage corresponds to
what most DA seems to do, which is to explore discourses in a somewhat static way,
identifying concurrent and competing discourses (often termed ‘dominant’ vs.
‘counter’ discourses, cf. Adger et al. 2001 and Escobar 1998 discussed in Chapter 1).
What we hope to add to this type of analysis on this level is a framework of
the ‘big questions’ that one should have in mind before attempting detailed text-based
DA. It is hoped that this would permit a more focused (perhaps more limited) form of
DA and avoid the tendency to rest on a purely linguistic level of analysis. At this
stage, the controversy itself is not directly addressed. Rather, for this stage, we require
simply that the framework provide a number of ‘big questions’ or a ‘grille de lecture’
that would guide and inform a more detailed text-based DA for the identification of
discourses that are involved in the controversy.

On another level, we would like the framework to be useful for the study of
the social construction of controversies themselves. Again, an overall guide is sought,
now for the examination of the ways that controversies themselves are structured.
This reflection would likewise guide yet be based upon further study through
‘traditional’ theories in policy analysis, conflict management, etc. The objective on
this level is to characterize the nature of the controversy itself. What is included in

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debate, and what excluded; what is explicitly and implicitly called into question, and
what is left unexamined? In other words, to what extent and in what ways has
‘discursive closure’ occurred, and what aspects of the debate are in fact still ‘open’ to
debate? (we here expand the term ‘discursive closure’ used in Hajer 1997). Of all
possible views and statements that could be expressed in debate, which are included
and which become excluded or more difficult to express?
For this level of analysis, we then require that the framework reveal a number
of ways through which controversies are constructed. More precisely, a way of
looking at the factors that structure (limit, constrain, or encourage) the kinds of
contributions that are considered acceptable, legitimate, or pertinent to debate.

Finally, on a third and related level of analysis, we seek a framework that


would reveal the struggles over the control of discourse in controversies. If the first
two levels ask about what is included and excluded from discourse and debate, then
this level asks how and why. This level addresses more directly the political nature of
controversies, and may likewise be based on approaches within studies of governance,
public policy, and more politically-aware discourse approaches. This level would treat
the ‘social construction of the controversy’ as itself an object of struggle, negotiation,
and change. Whereas the social construction of the controversy, discussed in the
previous paragraph, refers to the ‘rules of the game’ within which debate can be
carried out, here we are interested in the ways in which these rules themselves are
variably determined, imposed, negotiated and contested. How do the actors involved,
beyond simply making arguments for and against certain points, exercise control over
the framing and unfolding of the debate itself?
Central to this discussion is the concept of relational power discussed in
Chapter 2. In this understanding that goes beyond the special case of ‘hegemony,’ we
must ask not only ‘who controls the debate’, but rather, how is the structure of debate
negotiated, determined, and contested through the exercise of power relations between
the actors? We suggest that power relations in controversies are expressed through
intermediate variables that in turn determine what can be said, by whom, in what
contexts, and what force or value the statements that are said can be attributed. The
framework we are looking for must then provide insight into these intermediate
variables of the exercise of power.

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4.3 Conclusions
To conclude this section we summarize the discussion above of the three
levels of analysis and the corresponding criteria for the analytical framework.

Table 1. Criteria for the analytical framework


Level of analysis Functional requirement
Identification and characterization of Elements of a ‘grille de lecture’ to guide
discourses involved in the controversy the identification and analysis of discourses
Examination of the construction of the Factors that structure the use of discourse
controversy in debate
Study of the struggle over the control Intermediate variables to the exercise of
of discourse in the controversy power over the use of discourse in debate

These criteria will guide the development of the analytical framework, which we
begin in the following chapter.

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Chapter 5 – Analytical Framework
5.1 Introduction
Our proposition is that the three levels of analysis above should be studied
through a set of ‘framing parameters’ which constitute the proposed analytical
framework. These are a collection of analytical concepts which can be used to reveal
central characteristics of discourses in controversies, examine the construction of the
nature and limits of the debate itself, and which act as intermediate variables through
which actors may exercise differential control over the controversy. In proposing
these various framing parameters, our general hypothesis is that debate takes place
and must be studied not only ‘within’ the structure they define, but also, in a wider but
perhaps more subtle struggle, over the control of the parameters of the controversy
themselves. Further, we suggest that evaluating the capacity of different groups to
control these parameters can be seen as a way of analytically gauging their relative
power over debate, and that this view may do more to help explain the outcomes
(policies, changed perceptions...) of debates than a simple examination of differing
arguments.
To be more precise, we should define what is meant by ‘framing’ and
‘parameter.’ First, we use the word ‘framing’ in a way that includes the structuring of
debate in general (e.g. Forsyth 2003: 77-102) and the effect of framing on cognitive
processes of individuals (e.g. Hajer & Laws 2006)3. In our use, ‘framing’ is
essentially ‘structure to discourse,’ both in the sense that it limits the possible views
expressed in debate (discourse as language in use), and structures the way individuals
understand the world (discourses as ‘systems of signification.’ On the other hand, in
using the word ‘structure’ we do not mean that the framing of controversies is
unchangeable. Far from it; as we have said, one important level of analysis is
precisely to examine the ways in which an important part of the struggle that takes
place in a controversy is in fact over controlling (changing) the ‘framing’ of debate.
We propose that ‘framing’ should be studied through a number of different
‘parameters,’ the various mechanisms through which discourse (language in use) is
structured. They can be seen as the ‘rules, devices, and procedures of discourse
control... that organize the qualifications and opportunities of speakers to make
statements, and that establish conditions under which those statements are heard as

3
For the use in linguistics cf. Tannen 1993. For a useful overview of different approaches and
understandings of ‘framing’, see Dewulf et al. 2009.

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authentic or true’ (Lindstrom 1992: 104). Each of the following framing parameters
should be useful for the three levels of analysis and meet the criteria discussed above.
Each parameter, then, should be seen as 1) a characteristic of the ways that discourses
present in the controversy are structured, 2) a way that the controversy itself is
‘framed’ or structured, 3) an intermediate variable or mechanism of the exercise of
control over the controversy itself. In this chapter we suggest three framing
parameters, ‘modes of knowledge and argument,’ ‘terms of debate’ and ‘problem
definitions,’ though others could perhaps be conceived. These ideas are not new, they
have been expressed in the literature in different ways, but we hope to more clearly
define them here and adapt them to our needs.

5.2 Modes of knowledge and of argument


This framing parameter is linked to but goes beyond the simple idea of
‘access’, defined as ‘who is allowed to say/write/hear/read what to/from whom,
where, when, and how’ (van Dijk 1993: 257). If ‘access’ is the capacity to be present
and to ‘say/write/hear/raed’, this parameter refers to the rules that determine the
capacity of stakeholders to be heard and taken seriously. This will take some
explanation, and indeed in this work we do not hope to fully explore these issues.
Instead, we are content to trace some of the lines of thought that greater thinkers have
followed in order to glean some insights for our more immediate concerns. In this
section then, we first suggest that modes of knowledge and modes of argument are
linked. Second, that these modes may vary between disciplines and between societies.
Third, that certain modes may be privileged or excluded in debates, giving more
credibility to some modes of knowledge and of argument over others. We finish by
explaining what this all means for our, by comparison rather humble, framing
parameters.
Eder (1996) in his proposition for a discourse analysis of ‘modern
environmentalism’ takes a similar view of framing over discourse as discussed here.
He identifies three main cognitive framing devices in ‘modern societies’ that structure
the way we think about nature in general, and how we communicate about
environmental issues in particular. In referring to Habermas’s distinction of different
types of ‘validity claims,’ Eder identifies the framing devices of ‘moral responsibility,
of empirical objectivity, and of aesthetic judgment’ (Eder 1996: 167). Eder ultimately
argues that even within what he calls the ‘modern environmental discourse’ all three

- 26 -
framing devices or modes are exercised in competing ways by actors in structuring
the ways they think about and communicate about environmental issues. (ibid. 166-
176)
While Eder’s discourse analysis rests on so-called ‘modern societies,’ we hope
to develop tools that would transcend such boundaries (‘boundaries,’ which would be
in any case difficult to locate). For this, we turn to a more general understanding
suggested by Foucault:
Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the
types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the
mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false
statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and
procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who
are charged with saying what counts as true. (Foucault 1980: 131)

Without delving too deeply into philosophical questions of ‘truth’, we may well
accept that different societies (and indeed smaller groups, as similar arguments are
made regarding disciplines in Foucault 1971: 31-38) have different rules for
determining the truth of statements. In general then, it must be accepted that in a
multi-stakeholder situation the ways that different stakeholders not only understand
the world, but the mechanisms themselves for identifying true statements may also
differ. Naturally this will mean that different modes of argumentation, based upon
different modes of knowledge, will be considered more or less convincing,
acceptable, or legitimate. As identified by Eder as well, Foucault notes that in the
particular case of ‘societies like ours’ it is scientific discourse that has the privilege of
both knowing and speaking truth (Foucault 1980: 131-2).
To turn to the practical implications of these philosophical concerns, we
examine Healy’s (2009) exceptional article on the status of different epistemologies in
environmental debates. His study of ‘participatory’ practices in action shows the
inherent differences between scientific versus ‘lay’ stakeholders in the capacity to be
‘heard’ based on their differing ways of knowing and arguing. He states that even in a
near-ideal case where all stakeholders are given what we would call equal ‘access’ to
debates, inherent power asymmetries remain unresolved. Scientific arguments, based
on ‘value-free facts,’ are systematically privileged over lay arguments, which are seen
as ‘value-laden.’ Indeed, the a priori view is that the function of lay participation is to
offer ‘value-based’ insights, such as voicing ‘concerns’ and ‘interests,’ whereas
scientists and other experts are present to provide ‘fact-based,’ objective and neutral

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‘information’ about the nature of environmental problems, risks, and solutions (cf.
Callon et al. 2001). In contrast, the knowledge that lay participants could offer, and
the interests that scientific participants may represent are not taken into account in the
common participatory practices that Healy critiques. In citing Ingold’s understanding
of practice-based knowledge production and Rouse’s extension of Foucault’s
power/knowledge to the natural sciences, Healy takes up the critique of scientific
knowledge as just one among other ways of knowing and that it is itself dependent
upon the practices and contexts in which it is produced.
What we have attempted in this discussion to suggest, though not address
rigorously, is that different stakeholders may use differing modes of knowledge in
understanding the world. Based on this, they may have different ways of making
arguments and discerning the validity of arguments of others. Claims based on
science, personal experience, moral responsibility, or other ways of arguing will be
assessed and weighed differently depending on the relative power of actors and the
specific nature of the controversy.
This brings us back, finally, to the framing parameters. In the definition of
‘access to debate’ as ‘who is allowed to say/write/hear/read what to/from whom,
where, when, and how’ (van Dijk 1993: 257), this framing parameter focuses on and
extends the understranding of ‘how.’ It asks questions of not only whose arguments
are expressed, but what kinds of arguments are considered acceptable, pertinent, and
valid. One way, then, of investigating how debates are structured is to ask what modes
of argumentation or bases for knowing are considered valid, how this ‘rule’ has been
determined, and to what extent it is variably contested, negotiated, determined, or
imposed. Obviously, this will not depend on the power of actors in some absolute
sense, but rather on their relative power within the specific context of the controversy.
For example, a debate that addresses problems and issues that are considered to be
‘technical’ will tend to privilege scientific knowledge over others, whereas issues seen
as moral questions will favor other modes of knowledge. In this way, this framing
parameter then relates directly to the following two parameters, which address more
centrally the ‘contents’ or subject matter of the debate.

5.3 Terms of debate – open battles and black boxes


While the previous framing parameter refers the kinds modes in which actors
are allowed to participate, we now address, in this section and the next, two closely-

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related questions about the contents and subject matter of the debate itself. Here we
refer to the control over the ‘terms of debate.’ This idea bears similarity to ‘agenda
setting’, which is itself understood in various ways (e.g. Majone 2006). We hope to
more explicitly describe our understanding here. To begin, as we have described
discourses as systems of signification through which people give meaning to their
social and physical realities, we may well admit that different people using different
discourses would understand reality in different ways, and in interacting, the
meanings they use may be contested. To what extent are these ‘contested meanings’
expressed in debates about environmental issues? Rather than relying on a somewhat
vague notion of ‘contested meanings’, we suggest that this should be examined on
two levels: the choice of the terms of debate, and the constructed meanings of each
term.
In this, we mean to suggest that the terms that appear in a debate are not
necessarily a natural choice; that other choices could have been made, and indeed
might have been made had other parties had control over these choices. The question
becomes, what terms are included in the debate, which excluded, and how and by
whom are these choices determined? We define the idea of ‘terms of debate’ as the
discursive elements (ideas, concepts, categories), that are in greater and lesser degrees
negotiated between the stakeholders or, in other cases, determined and imposed by
more powerful actors, which become the obligatory ‘language’ through which the
debate proceeds. This is one case in which the effects of discursive hegemony are
easiest to explain. Our view is that in each case, for each subject of debate, the choice
of the terms in which debate could be carried out are in theory unlimited, yet in real
occurrences certain terms are privileged over others, certain kinds of ‘language’ given
greater priority, and that these choices may well be the results of more or less obvious
differences in power relations. What we suggest is a rather simple idea; that discourse
analysis should first identify the collection of terms through which the debate is
carried out, then ask, who controls this list? To what extent are certain actors forced
or influenced to take up positions on these terms and not others, to express their
various views and grievances within these limits, and how is the debate limited and
constrained, what ends are achieved, through the control of these terms?
Beyond the overall choice of terms, we must also consider the particular
construction and meaning of terms. What meanings are assigned to these terms, in
what measure are their meanings contested, or alternatively, accepted as ‘self-

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evident?’ The case of open contestation of meaning is perhaps most obvious. The case
of non-contestation is perhaps more interesting. What terms are being used without
being further examined? Does their apparent ‘commonly agreed’ definition reflect a
previous, resolved debate about their meaning, or does it reflect an inability of one
side to express or establish alternative meanings? To what extent are terms ‘black
boxed,’ left unexamined, and used unquestioningly? In referring to Latour’s idea of
‘black boxes’ (Latour 1987), we are indeed envisaging that terms may be used in one
of two ways (his ‘positive and negative modalities’). Terms may be used in
unexamined ways that thereby reinforce their ‘factualness’, or they may be openly
questioned and their underlying bases reexamined. In analyzing the terms of debate
we suggest then to examine to what extent the choice and meaning of terms are part of
an open conflict, and conversely, to what extent they are closed and reinforced as
black boxes, and again, what purposes this may serve, and alternative views and the
overall outcome of the debate is thereby constrained.
We would like to clarify through an example. In a debate on ‘deforestation,’
one of the terms of debate may well be the economic value of forest, within which
different actors would express differing views: some see the market value of
extractable lumber; others see a valuable hunting ground, etc. Yet the ideas described
above permit us to further deconstruct the debate and consider other views that might
be expressed. One view, for example, rather than simply responding to the question as
posed (‘what is the economic value of the forest’), may rather suggest that the ‘value’
of forest is not only economic, but also cultural, spiritual, scientific, etc. Another view
may protest the utilitarian idea of assigning ‘economic value’ to the natural world at
all. Others may question the implicit definition of ‘forest’ in technical or other terms,
another, that the whole idea is based upon a non-universal nature-culture dichotomy
that is foreign to the context relevant to the debate. Myriad other views may exist,
each contesting not only what economic value the forest has, but contesting at deeper
levels either the construction of the term ‘economic value of forest’ itself or further,
the underlying assumptions or contingencies that lead one to decide that the term
‘economic value of forest’ should be included at all in a debate about deforestation.
Through these views, the choice of terms of debate and their meaning are openly
contested. The extent to which these contrary views are not expressed should be the
primary focus of discourse analysis.

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5.4 Problem definition
As we discussed in Chapter 3, the purpose of debates may or may not be the
resolution of problems, yet we cannot ignore the central role of problems in ordering
debates and encouraging the participation of stakeholders. Thus far we have discussed
the choice of terms, and their contested construction, within which and over which a
problem like ‘deforestation’ could be discussed. Here we propose to apply the same
logic to the definition of the problem itself upon which controversy is centered.
Though there is certainly a link between the way a problem is defined and the terms in
which it is discussed, here we mean to explore the more central, guiding role of the
problem definition. Hufty (2007) recognizes problem definitions as central to
governance processes and similarly takes as a point of departure,
the postulate that any problem is a social construction. What is at stake may
be completely different for each stakeholder involved in a governance process.
Each protagonist has their own understanding of what is at stake... the party
which defines what is at stake and identifies the problem itself forms part of
what is at stake and is the subject of a power struggle. It is obvious that any
social relationship involves power relationships and the definition of the
problem at stake may be imposed by force or by persuasion (14-15 in original,
translation from the French by M. Hufty. Emphasis added).

Given the plurality of possible views on the definition of the problem itself, in a
politically-aware discourse analysis we should ask questions about why the problem
is posed in the way that it is, who controls the definition of the problem, and to what
extent this control is contested.
In a situation of highly differential power relations, we may well see that a
group of actors may unilaterally determine the problem central to the debate (as well
as controlling the terms in which it is discussed), thereby constraining or excluding
the expression of alternative views. On the other hand, others may try to enter the
debate and use it as a forum to voice diverse grievances and redirect the focus of the
debate toward problems that they feel are more relevant or to take advantage of the
situation in other ways. One group wants to discuss how to solve the deforestation
problem, another, the problem of access to land, another just wants to maintain
authority by being present. If certain groups have no power over the definition of the
problem and terms of debate, they may be forced to accept (or seem to accept) the
definition of the problem and the terms in which it is discussed. Their margin of
action is restricted to the level of simply postulating differing views ‘for and against’

- 31 -
given solutions in the hopes of influencing outcome of debate, if not toward their best
advantage, at least, away from their least disadvantage.
Now the question becomes, how is the problem-issue constructed and why is it
posed in this way as a ‘problem’ in the first place? (for an historical analysis of how
environmental problems have been defined or ‘posed’ see Irwin 2001). What
contingencies are necessary to explain the emergence and recognition of the problem
in the way that that it has been defined? To take a step back from the ‘deforestation’
debate example given above, we should go back to deconstructing what
‘deforestation’ means to different stakeholders, and further, why and by whom the
problem was defined or identified as ‘deforestation’ in the first place. We must
assume that the problem could also have been posed as one of biodiversity, or
resource entitlements, or even access to energy resources for marginalized groups,
and so on. Who decided that the ‘problem’ was ‘deforestation?’ Indeed, for certain
groups in certain contexts, deforestation may mean more space for grazing cattle,
progress towards modernization, or the mastery of space and territory. In these cases,
deforestation, far from being a problem, is a goal or a means to an end. So, where is
the problem?
In asking these questions, we are not suggesting a sort of relativism by which
environmental problems, among other social problems, do not exist, or that debating
them openly will do nothing to solve them. What we are suggesting is that a problem
can be perceived and posed in different ways and that the way that it is constructed
reflects something about the perceptions and interests of the ones who pose. Others
may well perceive and construct ‘the problem’ in different ways, may not perceive it
as a problem at all, or may simply prioritize other problems as needing more
immediate attention. Further, we suggest that environmental problems are not only
socially but politically constructed and that, to at least some extent, the ‘political
conflict is hidden in the question of what definition is given to the problem, which
aspects of social reality are included and which are left undiscussed’ (Hajer 1997: 43).
We go to some length in explaining the importance of this particular framing
parameter because we feel that it is a key question that is often overlooked as self-
evident. Imposing, maintaining, or contesting discursive closure of problem
definitions (also called ‘problem closure’, Forsyth 2003: 79) can have a number of
effects on the debate itself and may be desirable for a number of political reasons. We
suggest here a few lines of reflection, by no means exhaustive:

- 32 -
- Controlling the field of solutions. Defining the problem in certain ways leads
to a restricted field of conceivable solutions. Technical problems require
technical solutions; economic problems, economic solutions, etc.
- Steering the debate in one’s favor, or against one’s disfavor. One obvious case
being an actor maintaining a definition of the problem that specifically
precludes that actor as being identified as part of the problem. Preferring the
definition of the pollution problem as one of ‘waste management’ over its
definition as a thermodynamically inevitable result of production has certain
advantages for certain actors.
- Maintaining institutional legitimacy. If the problem can be defined in such a
way as to fall within an institution’s domain, the institution maintains a
legitimate reason to intervene in the debate, and perhaps in other ways in the
larger context. Conversely, allowing the problem definition to shift to other
concerns outside of the institution’s ‘problem space’ may call into question the
institution’s pertinence to the debate or even its raison d’être in a larger
sense.4
We do not mean to suggest by this that the debates about environmental issues serve
only the purposes of the elite.. Indeed, coming to some kind of dare we say,
consensus, over the definition of the problem, and discursive closure in its various
aspects, is a necessary first step in moving toward debating solutions and policies, and
ultimately coming to some kind of resolution. Indeed, the idea of ‘framing’,
discursive closure in general, Latour’s black boxes that we used to describe the ‘terms
of debate’, and ‘problem definitions’ all have a tendency to move debates from
situations of ‘doubt’ to ones of relative ‘certainty’ (Hajer & Laws 2006: 256-8; Latour
1987; Hajer 1997: 22). Without stable problem definitions, problems would probably
never get solved. We merely suggest a closer examination of the ways in which
problems are posed and the power relations involved in the ‘subtle processes in which
some definitions of issues are organized into politics while other definitions are
organized out’ (Hajer 1997: 42).

4
It then becomes less clear whether, for example, IUCN’s shift of the definition of protected areas to
include ‘associated cultural resources’ should be seen as a triumph of ‘indigenous rights’ activist
groups, or a strategic move to maintain institutional control over a shifting problem space. In passing,
we suggest as a question for further research, that in the case of ‘regimes’ or other ‘problem-centered’
or ‘task-specific’ jurisdictions, as opposed to more ‘general-purpose’ institutions like the state (see for
example Hooghe & Marks 2003), maintaining legitimacy may more critically depend on their ability to
control problem definitions. ‘Problems’ are their ‘territory.’

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5.5 Summary of the analytical framework
Here, briefly recapitulated in the form of a series of questions, are combined
the three framing parameters described in the previous section and how each of them
should operate within the three levels of analysis described in Section 4.2:

Table 2. Framing parameters in each level of analysis

Framing parameters within each Meaning of framing parameter in each


level of analysis level
Identification and characterization of
discourses involved in the controversy For each discourse involved in debate...
Mode of argument/knowledge On what epistemological basis are
knowledge claims made; how are
arguments formulated; what are the rules of
the ‘régime of truth’ that regulate the
formation of statements that conform to the
discourse?
terms of debate In what terms are arguments made; what
are the meanings attributed to specific
terms within the discourse; what is the role
of these terms in the overall ‘system of
signification’?
problem definition What problem is central to the discourse
and how is it defined within this discourse?

Examination of the construction of the


controversy For the controversy itself...
Mode of argument/knowledge What rules govern the types of arguments
that can be made and accepted; what kinds
of knowledge are considered valid and
credible; who is expected to provide what
kind of inputs (‘facts’, ‘concerns’...); who
is able to make authoritative claims, to
‘speak the truth’?
terms of debate What are the terms of debate within which
the problem must be discussed; what are
the imposed, negotiated, or accepted
definitions of these terms?
problem definition What is the imposed, negotiated, or
accepted definition of the central problem
of debate?

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Study of the struggle over the control
of discourse in the controversy Regarding the control over debate...
Mode of argument/knowledge How are the rules that govern the
acceptability of arguments and of
knowledge claims themselves determined;
how open to negotiation is this specific
‘régime of truth’?
terms of debate How are the terms of debate within which
the problem is discussed determined, by
whom and to what extent can terms be
introduced or their meanings modified?
problem definition Who controls the definition of the problem
itself, or how and to what extent is this
control negotiated, contested, or imposed?

5.6 Conclusions
The basic idea that we have tried to convey is that the debate may be ‘about’
more than it seems to be about. The debate should not be considered as a given entity
in which differing views are expressed, but rather that the debate itself is socially and
moreover politically constructed. The nature of a debate’s particular construction
reflects and perhaps reinforces the views and differential power relations of various
stakeholders and may determine in large part its outcome. We have summarized three
concepts from the literature, what we call framing parameters, that consider to what
extent ‘discursive closure’ exists in the structuring of the debate, and in what ways the
control of these parameters both reflects and reinforces existing power relations and
are the sites of political struggle. These three concepts used within the levels of
analysis as schematized above form the analytical framework we set out to develop. It
should be noted that this framework, though based on a series of concepts existing in
the literature, is propositional in nature. In testing its usefulness in real controversy
situations the relative importance of each framing parameter may become more clear,
and indeed other framing parameters may need to be considered and the framework
redeveloped.

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Chapter 6 – Conclusions
6.1 Discourses include and exclude, and so does discourse analysis
Every discourse, including the present work, includes some issues while
excluding others. While focusing on what we feel were some important topics that
could be addressed in the space allowed, there are however a great many more that
should be addressed and were not. Not because they are any less important, but
because of limitations in space and our own limited familiarity of them. In the first
section we briefly sketch out some of the more important lacunae, which the reader
will hopefully regard less as grave omissions and more as avenues for future research.
In the final section we summarize the contribution that we have sought to make with
this work.

6.2 Issues that were ‘organized out’ and the limits of discourse
Our analytical framework has focused on ‘what’ is discussed and ‘how,’ while
focusing less on ‘who.’ What is at stake in controversies is not only the meanings of
issues, problems, and the physical environment, but also the identities of the actors
themselves (e.g. Callon et al. 2001). The mobilization of identity or ‘identity politics’
is a common theme in political ecology (e,g, Escobar 1998), but a more general
question is, in what ways are identities themselves socially and politically constructed
through discourse in controversies? In other words, how do controversies,
specifically, contribute to the formation of coalitions and alliances, and more broadly,
to the formulation, contestation, and ‘inculcation’ (Fairclough 2007) of group and
individual identities? This requires a broader reflection on the way discourse orders
actors’ understanding not only of ‘the world’ but also of ‘self’ and ‘other.’ In this,
questions of identity have everything to do with questions of power. In more practical
terms then, the analytical framework we have proposed will no doubt require
additional development to truly address the question of ‘who can say what.’
A related question would be to address directly the question of ‘interests’,
which has been mentioned surprisingly little in this work. In keeping with the focus
on discourse, it seems that the traditional understanding of actors’ interests should be
re-examined to consider interests themselves as socially constructed through the
discursive interaction in controversies (e.g. Hajer 1997). If actors’ understanding of
the world and therefore the values they assign to objects and objectives are
constructed through discourse, then their their interests must also be constructed (or at

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least their perception of their interests, which is obviously what counts). Interests then
should be considered not as pre-formulated, known and knowable points of departure
for analysis, but as variables that are formulated through the course of debate. The
implication for further development of the analytical framework is that the processes
of the formulation and exercise of interests must also be explored.
This raises another question of why actors engage in debate in the first place.
What can be accomplished through debate, and generally, what is the role of
controversy in society? In Chapter 3 we briefly mentioned a number of different
explanations, but ultimately left this as an open question. In addition to the objectives
that interest certain actors, what other social changes are produced in and through
controversies? While the stated objective may be social change in the form of
changed practices through the enunciation of norms (the general schema from public
policy analysis), what other links exist between discourse in controversy and the
wider world of social practices? Can debates be ‘effective’ without producing norms?
We would suggest that this demands a wider reflection on the links between discourse
and practice (cf. Müller 2008), by situating a theory of discourse within a more
general theory of social practice.
We will stop here before the list becomes too daunting. Suffice it to say that
the avenues for future research in this domain are many. We can only hope that the
work that we have already done has at least begun this project. The analytical
framework we have described, open to further development as well as testing in the
field, will no doubt continue to evolve.

6.3 Summary and implications of this work


What we have attempted within the scope of the present work can be seen as a
first step in a project for the methodologization of the use of discourse ideas in
political ecology, begun in Chapter 2. The specific choice of studying the contexts of
environmental controversies has proved fruitful in two respects. First, it is a context of
particular interest to political ecology, as is evidenced by the literature on
environmental conflicts, environmental policy debates, as well as political ecology’s
engagement in a wider sense in the controversies that surround environmental
problems. While discourse analysis has commonly been used in political ecology for
the identification and characterization of discourses, as illustrated in Chapter 1, we
have transitioned from this type of analysis to a DA of controversies. This progression

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is effectuated through the levels of analysis introduced in Chapter 4. This move
extends the usefulness of DA into the context of environmental controversies. In so
doing, it builds on existing work in political ecology on both the study of DA in a
more static way and on an interest in the discursive interaction that occurs in
controversies.
The movement from static discourses to discourse in interaction also serves as
fertile ground for the exploration of relationships between discourse and power. This
is a wider reflection that Foucault began but has proved to be difficult to address. In
the more limited contexts of environmental controversies, we have suggested that
power and discourse can be linked through the three framing parameters in Chapter 5.
There, we suggested that these parameters should be considered as mechanisms
through which power is exercised over the use of discourse. This allows an
understanding of why some views and issues are included in debates while others are
excluded, ignored or marginalized. We have also suggested that power over the
debate may easily lead to power through the debate. That is to say, influence may be
exercised over the possible outcomes of controversies such as problem solutions,
environmental policies, and changed perceptions among the actors. These are of
course important questions for an approach to political ecology in which ‘politics
should have analytical pride of place’ (Bryant 1997: 9).

The bulk of this work has been largely theoretical, and questions of discourse,
controversy, and power have been discussed in technical terms. Through this we hope
to have shown at least that debates may be ‘about’ more than they seem to be ‘about.’
But, if the reader will permit us to step back from this for a brief moment we would
like to suggest what the wider implications of this research are as well as the
normative goals that drive it. What, finally, did we mean to say? To put it concisely:
certain actors may be able to exercise control over the nature of the debate, whereas
others, despite their right to 'voice' or that they are allowed or even encouraged to
‘participate’, find their views ultimately constrained or excluded. This may occur in a
diversity of debates across the globe. A farmer wants to talk about his need for secure
land rights, but he is reminded that this is a debate about deforestation and that his
grievances are misplaced. The views of a group of forest-dwellers are marginalized;
they have failed to express the value of the forest in terms of ‘environmental
services,’ ‘natural resources,’ or dollars and cents. The ‘democratic,’ ‘participatory’

- 38 -
debate continues, divergent views are expressed on what action to take, what
equitable, just solution to the ‘common problem’ should be adopted. But the range of
possible solutions has been constrained outright, alternative definitions of the problem
itself are excluded, actors struggle to at least add terms to the agenda, but ultimately
their claims, too ‘unscientific,’ too ‘value-laden,’ go unheard. The debate has been
‘closed’ on several fronts. Shifted into less obvious forms, inequalities persist. A
critical discourse analysis approach in political ecology should be able to ‘reopen’ the
unexamined facets of controversies and shift hidden forms of exclusion back into
view. In so doing, ‘new’ problems may be unearthed. At the same time, new, perhaps
more socially just and environmentally sound solutions may also come to light.

- 39 -
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