The discursive politics of ‘fracking’: frames, storylines, and the anticipatory contestation of shale gas development in the United Kingdom

Williams, Laurence and Sovacool, Benjamin K (2019) The discursive politics of ‘fracking’: frames, storylines, and the anticipatory contestation of shale gas development in the United Kingdom. Global Environmental Change, 58 (101935). ISSN 0959-3780

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How contested sources of energy such as shale gas are perceived in frontier countries considering their development is incredibly important to national and international climate policies. The UK shale development case is of particular interest currently as the Government attempts to position the UK as a pioneer of European, safe, sustainable shale gas development. We conduct a mixed-methods analysis of the UK policy debate on shale gas development involving 30 stakeholder interviews and 1,557 political documents. This empirical focus extends the existing literature by identifying the use of frames in and through the institutions and practices of formal UK politics. We identify nine key frames and their associated storylines, analyse their use over time, and compare these findings with other national case studies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given most UK Governments within our timeframe have supported shale development, pro-shale development frames dominate in the policy debate; however, we also find a high level of anti-shale development frame use, suggesting a deep and ongoing framing contest in national formal political sites. We find in particular a more prominent focus on land-use issues and impacts on the landscape than other UK studies or other national contexts. Conceptually the study puts forward an integrative approach to the related concepts of frames and storylines, as well as arguments concerning the impotence of storylines in anticipatory political debate and the polyvalence of framing strategies. Questions about governance are raised by the general lack of consensus over the framing of shale development within formal political sites, let alone amongst the broader public; and by the lack of a coherent response from the Government to criticisms of its approach. Finally, we reflect on the apparent lack of evidence for Hajer’s ‘communicative miracle’ in our case, and speculate as to whether the lack of broad-based resonance of the ‘bridge’ storyline signals trouble for the positive-sum thinking of ecological modernisation.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Depositing User: Nora Blascsok
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2019 11:17
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2020 01:00

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