(De)Constructing Euro-American Anthropocentrism in Mainstream and Alternative Media: A Case Study on Two Multimodal Climate Change Frames

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:30
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Renée MOERNAUT, University of Antwerp, Belgium, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Luc PAUWELS, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Jelle MAST, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Climate change is the problem of the 21stcentury. However, its future developments largely depend on our conceptions and engagement, which are, among others, influenced by (visual) media frames (Graber, 1988; 1996). Climate change appears to be the subject of lively debate in ‘Western’ society, including mainstream media. Nevertheless, most of the seemingly differential viewpoints can be situated, on a deeper level, within the same hegemonic sphere, highlighting liberalism, competitiveness and development (Pepermans & Maeseele, 2014). ‘Western’ man depicts himself, for instance, as superior vis-à-vis nature and other groups. Yet, this dominant thinking lies at the origin of many socio-environmental problems. Non-hegemonic values, like collaboration or moderation, are usually silenced (e.g., Dryzek, 1997). Alternative media, however, are more likely to reproduce the latter (Harcup, 2014).Little research has addressed the visual – let alone multimodal – (sub)frames of climate change (e.g., O’Neill, 2013), particularly in alternative media. Therefore, conducting a multimodal qualitative framing analysis we discuss the visual realization of the Environmental Justice (EJ) (the disproportionate suffering in ‘the South’) and the Circle of Life (CoL) (man’s impact on the Earth system) frames. Our corpus encompasses three mainstream northern Belgian newspapers and one alternative website (February 2012 – February 2014; n=739) (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006; Van Gorp, 2006). Our results illustrate that the mainstream EJ frame and the mainstream CoL frame are similar. Both decontextualize the problems, zooming in on individual causes or consequences or situating (‘Western’) man above the victims. Icons as the polar bear or the ‘suffering child’ illustrate this. Contrariwise, the alternative view does contextualize. Emphasizing equality, it encourages deeper levels of engagement. The depictions of victim-agents, for instance, highlight responsibilities beyond the emission of GHG. Summarizing, our analysis demonstrates exactly how the narrative of (Euro-American) Anthropocentrism keeps shaping our imaginaries, although being challenged by emerging counter-hegemonic visualizations.