Dissertation Abstract

Community, Place and Privilege: Double Realities, Denial and Climate Change in Norway.

Norgaard, Kari M  2003  http://www.whitman.edu/sociology/norgaard.cfm

Sociology, University of Oregon (United States), 318 pp.

 
Global climate change is arguably the single most significant environmental issue of our time. Scientific reports indicate that global warming will have widespread ecological consequences over the coming decades including changes in ecosystems, weather patterns and sea level rise (IPCC, 2001). Potential outcomes for Norway include increased seasonal flooding, decreased winter snows and the loss of the gulf stream that currently maintains moderate winter temperatures, thereby providing both fish and a livable climate to the northern region. In Norway public support for the environmental movement as well as public awareness of, and belief in, the phenomenon of global warming have been relatively high. Yet, despite the fact that people were clearly aware of global warming as a phenomenon, everyday life went on as though global warming, and its associated risks - did not exist. Existing sociogical research views information as the limiting factor in public response to climate change, an approach that has been characterized as the "information deficit model" (Buckeley 2000). While information deficit explanations are indispensable, they do not account for the behavior of the significant number of people who do know about global warming, believe it is happening and express concern.

Using ethnographic field work, interviews and media analysis from Bygdaby, a rural Norwegian community, this research describes global warming as an issue about which people did care and had a fair amount of information, but one about which they didn't really want to know and in some sense didn't know how to know. I describe public non-response to global warming as a product of socially organized denial. This denial was produced through cultural practices of everyday life. Community members collectively held information about global warming at arm's length by participating in cultural norms of attention, emotion, and conversation, and by using a series of cultural narratives to deflect disturbing information and normalize a particular version of reality in which "everything is fine." I characterize the features of everyday life from emotion norms to cultural narratives that members of Bygdaby have available to keep information at arms length as tools of order and tools of innocence.