There is No Alternative: A Symbolic Interactionist Account of Swedish Climate Activists

University essay from Lunds universitet/Sociologi; Lunds universitet/Sociologiska institutionen

Abstract: Today, a climate crisis is immanent. In this thesis I have conducted nine semi-structured interviews with Swedish climate activists. I here answer four research questions: 1) how they construct the problem of climate change; 2) how they present the non-activists and their motivations; 3) how they present themselves and their own role; and 4) how strategies and reactions can be understood from the dynamic between these. To that end, I use symbolic interactionism as my theoretical framework, drawing on Goffman's self-presentation theory and the sociology of emotions. I find that activists describe climate change as springing out of the subjugation of nature under economics, with its following fossil fuel combustion and resource exploitation. Activists have awakened to this, whereas others are described as in stuck in denial and occupied by a false consciousness. Activists present themselves as very understanding toward the others, avoiding ascribing guilt to individuals given that understanding climate change poses a big burden. I find that climate activists are in a position between having an understanding of the scientific problem while witnessing the social body’s inertia to change accordingly. Springing from this tension, they narrate a world in crisis, which they seek to communicate through their activism, to awaken others. Activists describe feeling climate anxiety, although the term remains controversial. They present themselves as feeling impotent in the face of the challenges yet describe that there is no alternative to activism. Mass actions and individual sacrifices provide ways to ameliorate feelings of guilt and anxiety.

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