Whose everyday climate cultures? Environmental subjectivities and invisibility in climate change discourse


Public climate conversations are inattentive to how differences in social location and culture shape people’s knowledge of and responses to climate change. Instead, emphases on climate apathy and climate skepticism overrepresent privileged sensibilities, marginalizing those who fall outside of what Black feminist theorist Audre Lorde calls “the mythical norm” (1987). In so doing, predominant approaches obscure forms of climate engagement that do not resemble researcher identified pro-environmental behaviors. In order to illustrate relationships between social location, culture, and response to climate change, we apply the notion of environmental subjectivities in a secondary analysis of climate engagement in two communities, one of which resembles and one of which lies outside the “mythical” norm. Both members of the Karuk Tribe and urban homesteaders frame climate change as symptoms of unsustainable political-economic structures. Yet differences in the structural location of each community result in divergent understandings of and practices in relation to the changing climate. These divergent community understandings and practices cannot be explained by individual preferences or cultural differences alone. Instead, the concept of environmental subjectivities (1) calls attention to the situated knowledges of climate change that emerge in relation to differences of indigeneity, race, and class, (2) relates community environmental practices to interlocking power structures, and (3) illustrates how elite narratives obscure the role of the colonial, settler, capitalist state in the generation of climate emissions.

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  1. 1.

    By resources, we mean both material (things like money, property, and access to water, food, etc.) and nonmaterial resources (such as education, social, cultural and emotional capital, political power, etc.), modeled after Sewell’s use of the term in A Theory of Structure (1992).

  2. 2.

    For a cautionary note on the way analysts might potentially fail to integrate the psycho and the social, see Wetherell (2008).

  3. 3.

    For a discussion of the psychoanalytic elements of environmental subjectivity, see Lertzman (2013).


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Correspondence to Allison Ford.

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This article is part of the Special Issue on Everyday Climate Cultures: Understanding the cultural politics of climate change^ edited by Goodman, Doyle and Farrell

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Ford, A., Norgaard, K.M. Whose everyday climate cultures? Environmental subjectivities and invisibility in climate change discourse. Climatic Change (2020).

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  • Indigenous peoples
  • Culture
  • Intersectionality
  • Subjectivity
  • Cultural framing