Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Media Diets and Democratic Discourse

Wednesday, November 10, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 350, Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (133 S. 36th Street)
Please register here. A Zoom link and links to the papers will be emailed to registrants.

Industry Fingerprints on Local Ideology: How the “Growth Ethic” Structures Consent to the Fossil Fuel Industry in Pennsylvania

Helene Langlamet (Annenberg School for Communication)

CALLS TO RESPOND TO CLIMATE CHANGE ARE BECOMING INCREASINGLY URGENT, yet we are still failing to inspire a robust public conversation about how our existing social structures need to be reconfigured to support a successful energy transition. HELENE LANGLAMET examines one of the social spaces most responsible for driving up the emissions of greenhouse gases: the extraction zones where fossil fuel energy gets produced. Specifically, it looks at the communities in western Pennsylvania living close to coal and natural gas production and waste treatment sites and attempts to understand the causes of their resistance to decarbonization. Data for this paper are drawn from eleven in-depth interviews with residents conducted over two months of fieldwork in the fall of 2020 and are part of a larger project aimed at understanding how public consent to the fossil fuel industry’s presence in western Pennsylvania gets cultivated. I begin by summarizing the attitudes of my participants toward the coal and natural gas industries before discussing what their responses tell us about the factors informing these attitudes. Among the factors discussed are the local culture, national and global ideological currents, the local media, and efforts by the fossil fuel industry to control the narrative. One notable finding is that partisanship seems to play a key role in the knowledge and value base that my participants draw on to arrive at their judgments about the coal and natural gas industries - something which I hypothesize is driven by politically segregated media diets. I also find that local resistance to decarbonization hinges on much more than just an ignorance or a misunderstanding of climate science, underscoring just how vital ethnographic research of extractive zones will be to any effort to decarbonize.

User Democracy and Digital Citizenship Initiatives

Irina Kalinka (Brown Dept. of Modern Culture and Media)

CONTEMPORARY DEBATES ABOUT THE POLITICAL IMPACT OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS in the West often revolve around a central, limiting dichotomy: Does digital media revitalize or hurt democracy? IRINA KALINKA shifts the focus to show how digital platforms are not only facilitators – of both democratic and anti-democratic tendencies – but also engender their own normative conceptualization of democracy. What emerges is a normative political imaginary she calls “User Democracy,” a technocratic understanding of politics, including the valorization of data and automation, predictability, and systematization. Community and popular sovereignty are here imagined as operational and, thus, potentially programmable, which devalues the need for political contestation, inherent in questions of history, justice, and equality, to play out in a truly public setting. Kalinka explores one aspect of this political imaginary: digital citizenship initiatives, like Google's educational Interland game, which presents citizenship is an improvable and quantifiable skill – instead of a shared responsibility. She argues, in contrast, for an emancipatory understanding of democracy rooted in the political ethos of (digital) agonism, which emphasizes that popular sovereignty is not an object to be facilitated from above, but a continuous, collective process of struggle around what it means to be in common with others.