Between “Empowering” and “Blaming” Mechanisms in Developing Political/Economic Responses to Climate Change

Maria Laura Ruiu, Gabriele Ruiu, Massimo Ragnedda*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Downloads (Pure)


This conceptual paper reviews four dimensions of the climate change (CC) debate concerning perception, framing, and political and economic dimensions of CC. It attempts to address the question posed by sociological research as to what can be done to reduce the social forces driving CC. In doing so, it attempts to uncover mechanisms that delay or prevent the social change required to combat CC. Such mechanisms call into question the Ecological Modernization Theory's assumption that modern societies embrace environmental sustainability with no radical intervention to change the social, political, and economic order. It specifically considers how the representation of CC as a distant phenomenon, in both temporal and physical terms, might contribute to social disengagement. A reflection on the interdependencies among science, political economy, media, and individual perceptions guides this paper. All these social forces also shape the CC discourse in diverse ways according to the evolution of the phenomenon over time (in scientific, but also in political and economic terms) and in relation to its spatial dimension (global/national/local). The variety of climate discourses contributes to increasing political uncertainty; however, this is not the only factor that generates confusion around the CC. Multiple and contrasting information might trigger a “blaming/empowering game” that works at various levels. This mechanism simultaneously promotes the necessity for sustainable development and perpetuates “business as usual-oriented” practices. Implementing sustainable development is therefore constantly undermined by a difficulty in identifying “heroes” and “devils” in the context of CC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-289
Number of pages27
JournalSociological Inquiry
Issue number1
Early online date23 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

Cite this