Ecological Identity: Underpinnings and Expressions

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Summer ALLEN , Dept of Sociology, Michigan State University, Lansing, MI
Greg GUAGNANO , Sociology and Anthropology, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
In a presentation to the National Congress on Behavior Change for Sustainability, Stern (2010) suggested that private sphere behaviors such as recycling have large intent quotients but relatively minor actual impact on environmental quality. Activism, on the other hand, has an ability to influence governmental and corporate policy and may be the most impactful activity. It is also an activity that requires a critical mass of public support to achieve that impact. To change policy or behavior, the activist relies on the power of mobilizing public opinion or resources to force accommodation from a government or corporate entity. One potential way to achieve and sustain that critical mass is through identity-based group formation. Membership in such a group may also increase the likelihood of an individual participating in public activism. 

In the research reported here, identity connected to environmental concern was explored in a small (125) cohort of environmentally-committed respondents.  Specifically the relationships between pro-environmental values as an enduring basis for an identity, environmental experiences, the presence of an “ecological identity” (Thomashow, 1996) or self-identification with nature, and the management of that identity as a social role were examined.  Using measures from Stern, Dietz & Guagnano (1998); Burke & Stets (2009); Clayton (2011); and our own experience items, we found that environmental experiences and pro-environmental values coincide strongly with the presence of an ecological identity, but that neither have a significant effect on how an individual manages the expression of that identity in relation to other identities held.