I felt a need to further explain how fringe, counter-conventional, alternative social networks persist in the world."
The analysis of climate skeptical narratives calls for a critical approach to language."
Social movements (and narrative-networks) are created by "othering" language and that brings to life an alienating story about the other."
I learned that a narrative, certainly an ideological narrative, doesn’t have to be true in any conventional sense. It just has to be compelling and true in the mind of the teller and the listener."
What surprised you the most about the language used by the climate skepticism movement?
Shondel Nero: What surprised me the most was the extent to which the now-infamous notion of “alternative facts” is real, especially in our ideologically divided society. In a sense, the postmodern idea of no absolute truth has been turned on its head. I learned that a narrative, certainly an ideological narrative, doesn’t have to be true in any conventional sense. It just has to be compelling and true in the mind of the teller and the listener. As I read and analyzed the texts, I was struck by how an “us vs. them” frame was underlying all of the pieces; each author/storyteller was convinced of the absolute rightness of their position and often questioned the motives and morality of the other side rather than their argument. The social media responses to articles were the most ideological and partisan, as they’re the perfect space for the echo chamber effect. As our sociopolitical environment has become more hyperpartisan, ideological narratives are on the rise, part of what we call a “genetic metanarrative” that reflect social fracturing and isolation. The language and rhetorical properties of this metanarrative are remarkably similar, whether it be about climate change or gun rights or now Covid or vaccines. So, in the end, it’s really not about climate at all.
Rau Lejano: One surprising thing is the extent to which this work on climate carries over to everything else. I am now getting used to bringing these analytic lenses to everything around me. Applying these lenses to COVID is almost too easy. Recently, I've begun reflecting on the ubiquity of othering speech in higher education, how persons of color are assigned their place through language, how ideological thinking abounds. A great way to analyze these phenomena and to spell them out is by expressing them as narratives.
And, lastly, it is surprising to arrive at new insights into the power of narrative. By now, the idea that narrative is important to society is frequently mentioned, to the point of being trite. But when you apply a narrative analytic method more deeply than just sketching out a plot, it is surprising what new insights you arrive at. The use of narrative in policy studies has really traditionally not been so deep, but collaborating with Shondel has allowed richer analysis.
Professor Raul Lejano and a team of NYU colleagues are bringing disaster preparedness workshops to Rohingya refugees living at the Bangladeshi/Myanmar border.