From greenhouse effect to climategate: a systematic study of climate change as a complex social issue

Climate change is a complex social issue, involving a wide range of social actors and organisations. Debates about climate change or global warming have been characterised by long periods of slow, mainly consensus-dominated phases, and by a series of sudden changes in attention.

In recent decades, the public debate surrounding man-made climate change has evolved from climate scientists’ warnings about the ‘greenhouse effect’ in the 1990s to public distrust of ‘climategate’ in 2009.

Climate change resonates with a wide scale of other debates, such as sustainability and energy security. This multiple complexity makes it a fascinating case for research into the links between social dynamics (and movements) and linguistic and conceptual dynamics across longer periods of time and at specific points in time. Theoretically, the project is embedded in three layers of sociological research dealing with:

the dynamics of slow processes and sudden bursts of social systems (social change and stability)
the power and politics of namings, framings and metaphors (the struggle over meaning)
the role of Web dynamics in public debate.
Methodologically, the project uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative text analysis and develops new methods for the automated analysis of the online meaning and spread of concepts.