Researching direct action against carbon emissions: a digital ethnography of climate agency

Rebecca Pearse
James Goodman
Suart Rosewarne


Global warming poses very directly the question of human agency. In this video ethnography of climate agency we explore dimensions of subjectivity in climate activism. Through a longitudinal study we track activist strategising as a reflexive process of creating climate agency. Activist reflection is presented as a balance between involvement and detachment, and analysed drawing on videoed interviews and on our own participation in organisations and events. Visual artefacts are deployed to deepen insights into the interview process, and into the contexts for climate action. In terms of the analysis, there are three themes. First we look at trajectories – how people come to identify with the climate movement and engage in its direct action wing. Second, we explore the hopes and fears of climate activists in the face of profound challenges. Third, we address political antidotes, and the role of direct action in precipitating large-scale systemic change. Across these themes there is much diversity and debate: what unifies is a common engagement in the broad field of direct climate action. This visual documentation helps us reflect on the conflicts and possibilities that thereby arise in contexts of climate activist praxis.

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