Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Kathleen Tierney

Second Advisor

Lori Hunter

Third Advisor

Liam Downey

Fourth Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Fifth Advisor

Maxwell T. Boykoff

Abstract

As climate change has become an increasingly salient topic among policy makers, scientists, politicians, and the public in many nations around the world, various social scientific studies have addressed the way this issue is socially constructed. However, an important component of these constructions that often goes under examined are the social pathways through which possible solutions to climate change, such as renewable energy, are themselves constructed. Considering the contemporary mass print news media's prodigious ideological influence and the potential value of renewable energy in addressing climate change, investigating the social construction of renewables in the mass media is crucial. In order to address this underdeveloped subfield of the sociology of energy and the environment, I interviewed 23 reporters and performed a critically-informed qualitative frame analysis using 980 news articles from five of the most prominent newspapers in the United States as sources. Utilizing the literatures of environmental sociology, critical theory, critical discourse analysis, communication, social constructionism, and policy studies, this project describes the ways in which large scale economic, technological, and cultural processes and changes have altered newsmaking practices and processes, and how this ultimately results in a narrow set of renewable-source electricity (RSE) frames in the news. Though this incomplete picture of RSE poses significant challenges for the emergence of a more climate-friendly, democratic, and reflexive public energy policy, the changing news production process offers opportunities for positive change.

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