Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Alexie Labelle (Université de Montréal)
Uncertainty Framing of Environmental Disasters and the Willingness to Protest: Miriam Matejova (University of British Columbia), Eric Merkley (University of British Columbia) Abstract: Major environmental disasters generate uncertainty, which becomes a crucial element of post-disaster political dynamics. Yet, aside from a few studies of uncertainty in environmental discourse and political behaviour, political effects of uncertainty have not received much attention from scholars. The purpose of this project is to gain an understanding of the effects of uncertainty communication on public willingness to participate in non-violent protest such as peaceful demonstrations, petitions or boycotts. Specifically, we ask: Why does post-disaster uncertainty dampen public willingness to protest in some cases but encourages it in others?
We rely on the findings of a text analysis of news media coverage of three major industrial environmental disasters linked to varying degrees of post-disaster protest: the Mount Polley mine leak, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Drawing on the existing literature on framing and motivated reasoning, we propose new hypotheses related to the effects of uncertainty on people’s willingness to protest. We test these through a survey experiment of 3,600 adults in the United States.
Our preliminary results challenge the psychological literature on demobilizing effects of uncertainty. The effectiveness of the uncertainty framing is conditional on political ideology, with more liberal respondents being more likely to resist such framing and therefore more likely to participate in a protest activity. This finding reveals a new interaction effect between uncertainty and political ideology, one that warrants further investigations.
Speaking Truth in Authoritarian Contexts: A Case Study of Human Rights Violations in Northern Uganda: Stephanie Bacher (University of Ottawa) Abstract: From 1986 to 2006, the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda was ravaged by civil war, during which both the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgent group and the Ugandan government committed numerous human rights violations. A number of scholars and civil society organizations have since then brought to light the truth about what really happened in the sub-region in an effort to counter the government’s official discourse on the civil war. This presentation will present the Ugandan government’s strategies to control the information and narrative about the armed conflict and how civil society organizations and scholars found ways to speak truth despite the authoritarian context. The findings presented are based on a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews conducted in the cities of Kampala and Gulu from August to October 2018.