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Week 10

CH 10 Communication and Social Change

Throughout the semester, much of our analysis of media has focused on the dominant institutions that control, power and produce most of what we see, hear and read. It is often difficult to challenge the status quo and put new ideas into circulation without really establishing a large supportive network and gaining credibility. Event then the dominant social paradigms will do whatever is in their power to keep things the way they are. As far as communicating nature goes, there are a number of contrasting features between the dominant social paradigm and the environmental paradigm. I will outline a few below:
Dominant: emphasizes human dominion over nature (anthropocentric), environment is a resource that funds progress, humans are the dominant species, only humans have rights, things have value according to standards set by humans, individuals act in their own best interest, more conservative politically.
Environmental: emphasizes humans as interdependent part of nature, sustainability and conservation are preferred, humans are merely one species among many, all entities that act with purpose have rights, diversity and harmony are valued, individual behavior contributes to collective good, more liberal politically.
It is clear that where humans want to live and play and work are the primary considerations for how land and resources are used and with this dominant paradigm in control it is difficult to imagine what the environmental paradigm might even look like and what kinds of change are needed to bring it about. While a democratic society is concerned with meeting the needs of its citizens, there is a “strong upper-class accent� and it is “more responsive to powerful upper-class interests and less likely to heed the call for change when it comes from outside its own class� (Corbett, 285). Within this dominant institution lies the media, which exerts a tremendous social control pressure.
Environmental change begins at the grassroots level, with activists working on issues of “environmental justice.� As groups strive to gain more members and power to gain success they must be weary, however, of the double-edged sword. Success can “initiate a maturation that makes the group appear less firmly outside the social institutions from which it seeks to change� (289). In other words, as a group becomes more formal and tries to represent the views of all of its members, it may shift to “tamer� action that resembles the operation of the surrounding social institutions.
The internal structure of environmental groups both formal and informal greatly affects communication choices. Many hire PR representatives and initiate contact with the media daily and some have even issued video news releases. Many national groups use their websites to speak to members and encourage their action through phone calls, letters, and increasingly by e-mail. The Internet has provided a medium by which people all over the nation can quickly get into contact and organize for a cause. Examples of this include the organization Greenpeace and its website which allows people to click on the words “act now� and then choose from several issues. The links lead you to a letter that’s already written that you are free to edit and then send. (http://members.greenpeace.org/action/)
Research has shown that the most effective communication is that which discusses how environmental topics will produce losses for the current generation since it might appeal more to self-interest and is therefore more important to individuals. Another way of getting people to take action is through guilt appeals, but in the long run this could actually lose its appeal as people become desensitized to being called guilty and feeling that they have no way to dig themselves out of their role. People are most responsive to guilt that provides an outlet and simple solution to make a difference. News coverage is also vital to the mobilization of new members and overall public opinion. “The public’s perception of a movement’s intensity of action may reflect media coverage rather than the actual memberships strength of the scope and intensity of grievances� (297). It is also extremely difficult in contemporary society to spread social movement without gaining access to the mass media. In essence, “the medium becomes to movement� because media coverage pursed by a group shapes its leadership, goals, and success. Again, this can have a moderating and conservative effect on what is produced by groups as they redefine their issues to make them more acceptable for the larger public. There are three possible outcomes for a movement and the groups within it: total failure (achieving no social change), total success (enacting a new ideology and practice), or partial success (which occurs most often).
The ironic thing is that the more successful a social change movement, the more likely that the movement ideals and language will be co-opted. This is what has occurred with green communication and the corporate world. The American public has become more accepting of “the most basic premise of environmental protection�, but the very meaning of environmentalism and environmentalists has been diluted. The percentage of citizens expressing support for the environment is phenomenally high, and in a way people are just jumping on the bandwagon. Corporations realize this and are trying to take advantage of the money and power that can be earned from associating one’s organization or products with a green image. Hopefully in the future the movement will be able to gain control of the crucial underlying problems and promote real change.