Friday, October 17, 2014
Social Sciences, Room 415
“Media Activism, Discursive Opportunities, and Social Movement Policy Impact: How ‘Gasland’ Reshaped the Politics of Fracking in the U.S., 2010-2013”
Edward T. Walker
School of Sociology, UCLA
Recent scholarship highlights the importance of public discourse for the mobilization and impact of social movements, but neglects how cultural products may shift discourse and thereby influence mobilization and political outcomes. This study investigates how activism against hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) utilized cultural artifacts to influence public perceptions and effect change. A systematic analysis of Internet search data, social media postings, and newspaper articles allows us to identify how the documentary Gasland reshaped public discourse. We find that Gasland contributed not only to greater online searching about fracking, but also to increased social media chatter and also to heightened mass media coverage. However, the documentary influenced the tone of discourse about fracking mainly in social media – galvanizing negative sentiment and highlighting risks – but not in mass media, suggesting that analyses of how discourse affects movements are enriched by moving beyond traditional media sources. We also find that local screenings of Gasland contributed to anti-fracking mobilizations, which, in turn, affected the passage of local fracking moratoria in the Marcellus Shale states. These results bear implications not only for understanding movement outcomes, but also for theory and research on media, environment, energy, and social networking technologies in the contemporary public sphere.
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