The Ways That People Talk About Natural Resources: Discursive Strategies as Barriers to Environmentally Sustainable Practices

Kurz, T., Donaghue, N., Rapley, M., & Walker, I. (2005). The ways that people talk about natural resources: Discursive strategies as barriers to environmentally sustainable practices. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44(4), 603-620.

In this paper, we analyse talk about water and energy use taken from nine interviews with citizens of Perth, Western Australia. Participants' talk offered representations of water as a scarce, shared, natural resource that must not be wasted, whereas talk about energy use focused on the environmental impacts of different technologies for generating electricity, rather than on energy as a consumable resource. Participants accounted for their water-use habits by positioning themselves as caught between a personal desire to conserve water and an (incompatible) social obligation to maintain the appearance of their gardens in keeping with the aesthetic appeal of the suburbs in which they lived. We identify several discursive strategies by which people construct the environmental impact of their actions as minimal or unavoidable. These constitute a barrier to the promotion of more environmentally sustainable practices. Potential implications for environmental policy development are discussed, as are the wider issues associated with the development of 'applied' discourse analysis.

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