Visual framing of the climate crisis on Twitter: The case of the California wildfires 2020-2021

Monday, March 20, 2023

12:30 p.m. 1:30 p.m. PT

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (ASC), 207

Aidan McGarry.Images are used to generate narratives, understandings, meanings and knowledge of a range of events, phenomena, and practices. Visual images have played a crucial role in raising awareness of the climate crisis especially by the environmental movement (Doyle, 2007). The visual framing choices made by NGOs and activists reveal agency and the pivotal role of social media in shaping understandings and ascribing meaning to the unfolding climate crisis. It has been noted that the environmental movement has harnessed a future oriented pessimism with activists deploying negative affect such as fear in order to raise awareness of impending climate disaster (Cassegard & Thorn, 2018). Yet, research has also shown that positive affect such as hope, compassion and love can be just as persuasive in raising awareness (Ojala, 2012). Diverse messages are communicated visually such as apocalypse, devastation, individual and collective agency, collective responsibility, future generation, urgency, danger, and blame. Drawing on visual data scraped from Twitter, this presentation begins by outlining the dominant visual discourse during the California wildfires of 2020-2021 before examining the visual repertoires deployed by environmental NGOs (mostly based in California) as they communicate arguments and attempt to shape narratives. As a crucial step, environmental activists attempt to link the California wildfires to broader climate change debates and lay the blame at the feet of politicians and the oil/coal industry. 

Speaker Biography 

Aidan McGarry is a professor of International Politics at Loughborough University, London. He is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award 2022-23 to spend six months based at USC Annenberg where he will conduct research on environmental movements, social media and visual culture. His research focuses on social movements, protest, political voice, and marginalised communities especially Roma but also LGBTQIA+ communities. He is the author of five books including Romaphobia: The Last Acceptable Form of Racism (Zed, 2017) and The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication (Amsterdam University Press, 2019). Previously, he led an AHRC-funded international project looking at protest aesthetics, communication and visual culture. Aidan has held a EURIAS Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam, where he was also a Marie Curie Fellow. While at USC, he is looking forward to connecting and engaging with faculty and graduate students with similar research interests.