A TASA Thursdays event
May 18th, 12:30pm - 1:30pm AEST
Speakers: Liv Hamilton, Rob Watts, Judith Bessant & Milo Kei
Folk devil or fairy-tale princess? The figure of the climate activist in Australian political discourse
Authors: Olivia Hamilton, Vanessa Bowden, Daniel Nyberg, Christopher Wright, Randi Irwin
Despite recent developments to address the climate crisis in the political sphere, including commitments to net zero made in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow (2021), global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remains far short of that required. Within this context, Australia has built a global reputation for not only failing to act on climate change nationally, but also for seeking to limit international agreements. Based on 70 qualitative interviews with key informants from the political, lobbying and fossil fuel sectors as well as community groups, non-government organisations [NGOs] and unions, this paper draws on the concept of ‘figuration’ (Braidotti 2011) and the concept of the ‘folk devil’ (Cohen 1972), to explore how climate activists are represented in political discourse. For those who seek to maintain the status quo, reliance on fossil fuels is positioned as logical, rational, and sensible, while climate activists are presented as either naïve or idealistic (the ‘fairy-tale princess’), or dangerous or manipulative (the ‘folk devil’). Climate activists are thus faced with the task of challenging their position as ‘other’, reconfiguring these (and other) dichotomous constructions in order to chart new paths through the climate crisis.
‘Blah, Blah, Blah … [not] Business as Usual’: Young Female Leaders in Climate Change Action
Authors: Judith Bessant, Rob Watts, Philippa Collin
The art of political leadership and the role of speech-making have long been central to the study of political processes. Yet when we think of ‘great’ political leaders and speeches the referents are invariably older men. Recently, however, young women have given powerful, authoritative speeches, demonstrating leadership in speaking truth to power. Young women like Emma Gonzalez, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Vanessa Nakate, Bana Alabed have moved millions, reshaped public opinion, energised collective action and called traditional political leaders to account. In the global climate strikes, many more have addressed peers, communities and politicians, calling for urgent action on climate change.
In this paper we examine the role and rhetoric of young female leaders and speech-givers to ask: what role have they played in recent climate change activism and what does this signify for theories of political leadership and democracy?
Drawing on theoretical accounts of recognition (Taylor, 1992; Fraser, 1995; Honneth 1995; 2012) and ‘acts of citizenship’ as rights claims (Isin, 2008) we argue that the young women in the climate movement are engaged in a political struggle for recognition. We consider how their acts of leadership are critical, performative political practices – long been integral to struggles by subaltern groups – making claims for political recognition, equality and rights, to advance feminist claims and demand climate justice.
Class, political participation and the School Strike for Climate movement in Australia
Author: Milo Kei
The School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) movement is part of a ‘durable’ and ‘highly networked’ global social movement that involves millions of young people. SS4C, known in Europe and elsewhere as Fridays for Future, is a student-led climate focused environmental movement increasingly concerned with issues of economic and social justice. Secondary and primary school students are responsible for planning, promoting and participating in strike actions around Australia in concert with their global counterparts. Those who lead the organisation of strike actions share several similar economic and social attributes, including relatively privileged backgrounds and high levels of scholastic and civic engagement. This research project seeks to examine the influence of leaders and participants on the socio-cultural value placed on ecological practices within a student-led social movement. It also examines activists’ attitudes to internal and external representations of the movement which shows a high degree of reflexivity about the movements political impact. Activists individualised ecological practices can be seen as part of their repertoire of protest techniques and an expression of collective political displeasure toward continuing governmental inaction on climate issues. Using a Bourdieusian framework, this qualitative research project interviewed SS4C activists about their political participation, socioecological practices and climate strike actions before and during Covid-19 lockdowns in Newcastle and Hunter region in NSW and Melbourne, Victoria.