ï· To raise/consolidate your awareness of some contemporary environmental issues/discourses
ï· To provide experience of working with qualitative methods â the description, analysis and interpretation of words and pictures
ï· To consider how use of representation and different rhetorical strategies contributes to the social construction of the environment
This practical asks you to think about how words and pictures can be used to reinforce a particular point of view about the environment. The task we have set for you involves a (deliberate!) contrast with that set for the first coursework assignment, in which the emphasis was on the âscientificâ treatment of objective, numerical data using fixed (i.e., established, uniform) graphical and statistical procedures which we assume produce an undisputed, truthful account of environmental impacts on humans. This time, however, we want you to address not so much the things themselves (volcanic ash, weather, deaths…) but peopleâs ideas about things. Our understandings of the environment, and our relationships with it, depend just as much on ideas (i.e., what is in our heads, individually or collectively) as on the material aspects of reality independent of subjective, social factors. People and organisations often think differently about, for example what counts as âprettyâ or âwildâ or âdangerousâ. Such differences in opinion exert an important influence on what we think of as appropriate or inappropriate behaviour towards the environment â what should we protect, or what are the acceptable uses of technology, for instance?
Qualitative research traditions, typically associated with the humanities rather than the sciences, emphasise these subjective dimensions of the environment (and associated concepts such as place, landscape or nature). This type of work treats the environment as a social construction that involves more than (or less than!) objective reality. As academics, it is important to adopt a critical attitude towards the textual material used to put across arguments â precisely because its authors usually hope that you will accept their point of view without question! The extent to which a particular idea is shared â a measure of âideological successâ if you like â often depends on the persuasive qualities, or rhetoric, of the material used to promote that point of view. Authors, journalists, filmmakers, politicians, pressure groups, etc. use words and pictures as tools that reinforce, or even create, the meanings that we [are led to] attach to particular issues or locations.
Your task is to examine â and pick apart â three contrasting sources (or âtextsâ). The first consists of words only, the second just pictures, and the third a mixture of both. Each of these sources aims to convey a particular point of view about some aspect of the environment. As such, it should be evident that the (re)presentation of the issues involved will not necessarily be objective: âtextsâ are partial twice over, in that their accounts of phenomena are neither neutral nor complete. It is important to consider both the message (what the texts say) and the medium â the way in which the message is put across. Qualitative methods of discourse analysis explicitly recognise that the use of language, images and sound acts as a powerful rhetorical tool.
This exercise requires a detailed and critical inspection of the texts. Try to identify the most important features and themes in the course material â a process known as coding. You should:
ï· Think about the author and the intended audience. Who produced the material, and for whom?
ï· Summarise the argument and the various rhetorical devices deployed in making it.
ï· Consider the creative/evocative use of words of pictures. For example, what is the difference between âeventâ, âincidentâ and âdisasterâ? What difference does the use of certain adjectives or visual perspective make?
GG2509: Exercise 2, 2016
ï· Think symbolism â for example, how is weather used? A blanket of snow
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