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Climate Change as Social Drama: Global Warming in the Public Sphere

  • Lively and widely accessible; though aimed at a scholarly audience also has mass appeal – very hot topic
  • Indicates the surprising relevance of Aristotle for the analysis of contemporary culture
  • Explains effective and failed climate change communication, with an emphasis on culture

By: Philip Smith(Author), Nicolas Howe(Author)

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | May 2015 | #219594 | ISBN-13: 9781107503052
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £21.99 $28/€24 approx
Hardback | Aug 2015 | #219593 | ISBN-13: 9781107103559
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £56.99 $73/€62 approx

About this book

Climate change is not just a scientific fact, nor merely a social and political problem. It is also a set of stories and characters that amount to a social drama. This drama, as much as hard scientific or political realities, shapes perception of the problem. Drs Smith and Howe use the perspective of cultural sociology and Aristotle's timeless theories about narrative and rhetoric to explore this meaningful and visible surface of climate change in the public sphere. Whereas most research wants to explain barriers to awareness, here we switch the agenda to look at the moments when global warming actually gets attention. Chapters consider struggles over apocalyptic scenarios, explain the success of Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth, unpack the deeper social meanings of the climate conference and 'Climategate', critique failed advertising campaigns and climate art, and question the much touted transformative potential of natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy.

Advance praise:

"Climate Change as Social Drama brings the powerful theoretical approaches developed by cultural sociology to the study of climate change. Through a detailed rhetorical analysis of key areas of contention, Philip Smith and Nicolas Howe provide a unique and insightful perspective on the contentious debate on climate change. This intellectual intervention provides a new way to think about this issue, as well as contributes to the development of cultural sociology. Kudos to Smith and Howe."
– Robert J. Brulle, Drexel University, Philadelphia

"The climate science community has long been calling for social analyses of how culture shapes public perception of climate change. Climate Change as Social Drama launches that conversation with a beautifully crafted and cogent response."
– Kari Marie Norgaard, author of Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life

"This is a wonderfully erudite and expositional book rooted in the new cultural sociology. It is also an exceptional book for our times. Climate Change as Social Drama provides theoretically original and penetrating insights into the unfolding dynamics and possibilities of recognizing climate change as one of the most serious threats confronting humankind today. Scholars and students, activists and citizens, and all those who are concerned not only with the deficiencies of climate change communications but also their unrealized possibilities should read it."
– Simon Cottle, Cardiff University

"For too long, too many earnest people have believed that the key to untying the Gordian knot of climate change lay in science – more science, better science, more consensual science. In this beautifully written book, Smith and Howe decisively give the lie to this belief. The key to acting in the world is to be found in the different ways in which the social drama that is climate change is made meaningful to people. This book needs to be read by climate scientists, policy advisors, and activists alike."
– Mike Hulme, King's College London


1. Introduction: the problem of climate change
2. Climate change as social drama
3. Narrating global warming
4. An inconvenient truth: the power of ethos
5. Climate change art: an illustrative failure?
6. 'Climategate' and other controversies
7. The climate conference as theatre
8. Local dramas: the places of climate change
9. Conclusion: the show must go on

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Philip Smith is Professor of Sociology and co-Director of the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology. His work explores the meaningful nature of social life as it plays out in a communicative public sphere. He is author of Why War? (2005) and Punishment and Culture (2008) and co-author of Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life (Cambridge University Press, 2010), as well as a dozen other books and edited collections.

Nicolas Howe is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Williams College, where he is also affiliated with the American Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His work explores the cultural and religious dimensions of modern environmental thought from the perspective of cultural geography. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

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