Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Mariaelena Bartesaghi, Ph.D.
Patrice M. Buzzanell, Ph.D.
Chris McRae, Ph.D.
M. Martin Bosman, Ph.D.
Authority, Environmental Communication, Materiality, Relationality
My project examines the communicative constitution of environment: how we mediate environment in discursive practice, and arrange chaotic and complex timeplaces into organized relationships of agents and objects which act and are acted upon. Climate scholars across disciplines are calling for a paradigm shift in how we understand, study, inhabit, and relate to Earth’s varied environments. In this dissertation, I demonstrate how communication practices do the work of constituting the environment as we know it, and therefore conclude with the hopeful suggestion that these same practices can be used to do the work of a paradigm shift — that is, we can (re)arrange our relationships and ways of relating in ways that generate genuine transformation in the world.
This project weaves together transdisciplinary threads of scholarship to contextualize our understanding of environment within institutionalized practices which authorize particular means of mediating experience, including critical legal geography, sociolegal studies, science and technology studies, organizational studies, climate science, and meteorology, to name a few. I connect these varied fields through the application of a meta-constitutive framework of communication (e.g., Craig, 1999; Cooren, 2014) in which I understand communication to be the means by which we mediate our experiences in the world. I employ a multimodal, mediated approach to discourse analysis to analyze what strategies and resources participants use in interaction to mediate and make sense of their environment and to consider the implications of various actions for the beings, objects, and environments involved. I adopt a critical stance from which I pursue a critical agenda I have chosen to call the Terrestrial project: the need to generate new ways of arranging and relating within our environment to better account for the agency, materiality, and needs of those other beings and materials trying to inhabit the Earth alongside us. The Terrestrial project does not call for a paradigm shift, but rather it makes space for us as scholars and Earth-bound beings to do the messy, conflicting, frustrating, and promising work of changing our practices.
In my analytical chapters, I offer three case demonstrations of what scholarship in the Terrestrial project might look like, making a point to examine a variety of data types (mediational modes) across contexts. Because there is already considerable research on human-animal relationships, I focus on three broad, non-living (in the organic sense of carbon-based life) environmental phenomena: land, weather, and climate. In the chapter on land, I examine legal texts and consider how legal discourse shapes and is shaped by the material conditions of our environment; the chapter on weather considers how a hurricane is constituted through social media posts and images; the climate chapter analyzes spoken discourse, attending to the ways in which speakers at a professional conference give meaning to the term “climate change” through practices of identification and categorization.
Scholar Commons Citation
Smithberger, Leanna K., "The Communicative Constitution of Environment: Land, Weather, Climate" (2021). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.