My article “From Frames to Resonance Machines: The Neuropolitics of Environmental Communication” is coming out in the next issue of Environmental Communication. Here’s the abstract:

George Lakoff’s work in cognitive linguistics has prompted a surge in social scientists’ interest in the cognitive and neuropsychological dimensions of political discourse. Bringing cognitive neuroscience into the study of social movements and of environmental communication, however, is not as straightforward as Lakoff’s followers suggest. Examining and comparing Lakoff’s “neuropolitics” with those of political theorist William E. Connolly, this article argues that Connolly’s writings on evangelical-capitalist and eco-egalitarian “resonance machines” provide a broader model for thinking about the relations between body, brain, and culture. Environmentalists, it concludes, should pluralize their “frames” and pay greater attention to the micropolitical and affective effects of their language and practices on the communities within which they act, communicate, and dwell.

And a couple of excerpts from the article:


George Lakoff and William Connolly are two of the more prominent theorists who have attempted to bring ideas from the cognitive and neuropsychological sciences into the social-scientific and political domains. This is by its nature a risky venture, as the field of cognitive science is both rapidly changing and far from paradigmatically unified. This situation leads Gunnell (2007, p. 711) to call cognitive science an ‘‘equal opportunity ideological and methodological resource,’’ as it provides data that could be taken to support a variety of not always compatible positions. Cognitive science is marked by debates over numerous open questions: these include the relationship between the mind and the brain, with some, like Paul Churchland, defending a reductionist ‘‘computational mind’’ and others opting for some form of dualism, parallelism, or defense of ‘‘folk psychology’’; the Darwinian basis of neural architecture, emphasized, for instance, in Stephen Pinker’s notion of a ‘‘language instinct’’ and Daniel Dennett’s theory of cultural ‘‘memes’’; the extent to which that architecture is ‘‘hard-wired’’ or mutable and ‘‘plastic’’; and the significance of the emotions and of embodiment in cognition. [. . .]

Nevertheless, cognitive studies have over the years produced a picture of human cognition and behavior that is somewhat consistent in its generalities, if contested in its details, and that departs from the traditional understanding of humans as rational actors. Instead, rationality is seen as part of a larger set of brain-mind processes involving complex affective, motorsensory, and neural-cognitive responses. While traditional cognitivism favored a view of neural processes as computational and representational, this view has in recent years been strongly challenged, if not supplanted, by an understanding of cognition as ‘‘embodied,’’ ‘‘situated,’’ ‘‘distributed,’’ and ‘‘enacted’’ in the interactive relationship between an organism and its environment. Each of the latter terms — embodiment, situatedness, distribution, and enaction — represents a different emphasis connected to somewhat different research programs. The overall picture of an ‘‘embodied mind,’’ however, is now well grounded among leading philosophers of cognition as well as many cognitive scientists themselves. It is not the only approach within the field, but it is no longer a minor or insurgent one either (Anderson, 2003; Calvo & Gomila, 2008; Chemero, 2009; Clark, 1997; Damasio, 1999; Gallagher, 2005; Hutchins, 1995; Rowlands, 1994; Shapiro, 2004, 2007; Thompson, 2007; Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 2001; Wilson, 2002).

[. . .]

A careful consideration of the history of conservation and environmental movements, however, shows that viscerally experienced non-conceptual elements — for instance, affect-laden images, and styles of action, of discourse, and of sensibility — have played an extremely important role in these movements. Without the landscape paintings, photographs, and films of the American West, for instance, the movement to set aside and protect American’s national parks would have been inconceivable (Dunaway, 2005; Runte, 1997). Similarly, photographs of the whole earth from space shaped an entire generation’s ability to perceive the globality of the world in ways that had earlier been merely theoretical. As visual theorists such as W. J. T. Mitchell (2005) and Susan Sontag (2003) have argued (the latter in her exploration of the photographs from Abu Ghraib), imagery affects us in ways that elude the interpretive frames we may try to place on it. Terms such as ‘‘national park’’ and ‘‘whole earth’’ played an important role in the shifts in environmental consciousness mentioned above, and in this sense Lakoff ’s focus on terminology can be useful. So, however, did the writings of Muir and Thoreau, or, in the case of the space program that produced the whole-earth photographs, key statements made by John F. Kennedy (in his famous speech of May 25, 1961) and Neil Armstrong (‘‘One small step for man . . .’’). All of these, arguably, affected their audiences at a deliberative as well as a more formative or unconscious level. None of these, however, would have had much effect without the extra-linguistic elements that accompanied their reception: the paintings, photographs, tourist posters, and excited eyewitness accounts of Yosemite and Yellowstone; or the hours spent watching grainy black-and-white images on television, newly institutionalized across the nation as the hearth of the family living room, as it broadcasted the Apollo 11 moon landing, with its soundscape of hesitant call-and-response between Houston and the astronauts, its reverent narration accompanied by electronic blips, technical glitches, and pauses, all of which kept a massive national audience poised on the edge of a unique moment in history. In each case, there is a dimension of feeling and emotional or affective ‘‘contagion’’ (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson 1994; Tomkins, 1995) that is transmitted and shared as a result of impulses that are often too fragmentary, backgrounded, or imperceptible to be measured, but which taken together have a deeply resonant impact.

Connolly’s notion of ‘‘resonance machines’’ suggests the importance of such nondiscursive elements in social change. The role of ‘‘image events’’ in mass-mediated environmentalism has been addressed by some environmental communication scholars (Brereton, 2005; DeLuca, 1999; Dobrin & Morey, 2009; Dunaway, 2005), but these have rarely been connected to the insights of neuropsychological research in the way that Connolly proposes. Images and image events, for Connolly, connect not only with discourses and rhetorically shaped identities (as DeLuca, 1999, argues), but also with sensibilities expressed and shared on affective and sub-rational registers. These include a potentially vast range of day-to-day micropolitical and performative practices, such as those associated with green consumption, education, fashion, recycling, art and design, as well as ritualized ways of marking out time and space, such as Earth Days and other ecologically signified calendar events, green-up days at local parks and schoolyards, the restoration of one’s river system, and the like. In this view, the reshaping of the environmental imaginary is more than just a terrain of struggle over competing discourses, but becomes a terrain of personal and social action by which we as individuals and collectives are constituted. [. . .]

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