Cultural Cognition

A social science approach to global warming denialism--Part 3

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jan 10, 2010 at 19:00

This is the third of a three-part series devoted to explaining global warming denialism in terms of recent developments in social science.  In Part 1, I introduced the general framework of the Cultural Theory of Risk (CTR), as well as the more refined conceptualization of CTR known as "Cultural Cognition". The basic idea behind this approach is that individuals tend to form beliefs about societal dangers that reflect and reinforce their visions of the ideal society. I also briefly introduced four specific mechanisms that play a role in shaping those beliefs.

In Part 2, I discussed the four specific mechanisms in greater detail, describing empirical examples of how they work.  In this part, I'm going to talk some about how proponents of cultural cognition propose that their insights be applied, as well as how I see these mechanisms relating to the issue of global warming and global warming denialism.

In particular, in the primary paper I've been relying on, "Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk", Yale law professor Dan M. Kahan writes:

Cultural cognition suggests that the influence of worldviews on risk perceptions can be collectively managed in a manner that simultaneously advances of the interests of persons of all cultural persuasions.

In my view, this aspiration is delusional in much the same way that Obama's rigid bipartisan ideology is delusional.  The approach is much more sophisticated than Obama's bipartisan ideology, but it falls prey to the same ultimate problem: there are some actors who aren't simply uninterested in working together so that everyone wins, they are actively opposed to any system in which everyone wins.

This is my way of agreeing with the neocons--yes, there is evil in the world, and they are a prime example of it.  That said, I do believe that cultural cognition can help a very large subset of humanity reach consensus in a way that validates diverse worldviews that otherwise might appear irreconcilably opposed to one another.  This is not a perfect solution, but it is, I would argue, a good-enough one.

But first, let's refocus on the question that started it all: How does all this help us understand global warming denialism?  That's the first issue I'll handle on the flip.

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A social science approach to global warming denialism--Part 2

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jan 10, 2010 at 10:30

This is the second of three-part series devoted to explaining global warming denialism in terms of recent developments in social science.  In Part 1, I introduced the general framework of the Cultural Theory of Risk (CTR), as well as the more refined conceptualization of CTR known as "Cultural Cognition".

The basic idea behind this approach is that individuals tend to form beliefs about societal dangers that reflect and reinforce their visions of the ideal society. I also briefly introduced four specific mechanisms that play a role in shaping those beliefs.  My primary source for discussing Cultural Cognition was the 2008 paper, "Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk", by Yale law professor Dan M. Kahan.  In this second part, I take a closer look at the evidence presented about those four mechanisms in that paper, along with some supplementary material.  This will be followed by a specific focus on global warming denialism in Part 3 of this series.

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A social science approach to global warming denialism--Part 1

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 12:30

On Dec 29, Daniel wrote a diary, "Why the right denies anthropogenic climate change", in which he said:

What's really happening is that anthropogenic climate change is a fundamental assault on right wing ideology and the solution requires a worldwide implementation of liberal policies that will undercut right wing ideas at every level well into the future.  Right wingers maybe do not grasp this fear consciously, but intuitively everything about this issue stinks for them.  Denial is the only way to save their worldview.

At the time, I responded with a comment stressing conservative identity over ideology:

You're Too Logical

All the above would be true if conservatives really understood it, but they do not.  Most importantly, the "instinctively feel" version, which you present, doesn't really improve the argument.  It only creates our own "just so" story.  (Or a "rational reconstruction" of irrational attitudes, if you will.)

I think the answer is much simpler: conservatives deny global warming because (a) liberals talk about it and (b) conservative blowhards have been demonizing liberals for talking about it for about 20 years now.  In short, global warming denial has become an integral part of conservative identity politics...

It was an off-the-cuff remark (even though I went on to quote from a 2006 MyDD diary) that made an important point, I think. But simply stressing a broad-brush picture of how the conservative base came to assimilate global warming denialism into conservative identity gives a very incomplete picture.  After all, there are reasons why liberals talk about global warming, and why this is a particularly fertile ground for demonization by conservative blowhards.

This weekend, I want to discuss a social science approach to risk-perception that can shed a good deal of light on identity and ideology, and how they figure into the case of global warming denialism.  It's going to take three diaries to do this properly.  First, this diary will introduce the broad outlines of the approach, known as "Cultural Cognition", whose work is centered at The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School.  Cultural Cognition is an interpretation of the Cultural Theory of Risk (CTR), first articulated by anthropologist Mary Douglas and political scientist Aaron Wildavsky in their 1982 book, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers.  In this diary, I'll discuss the broad outlines of CTR, and how Cultural Cognition differs from earlier articulations of CTR.  One of those differences is the specific mechanisms of culture cognition.  I will desrbie several of them in this diary.  Diary number two will then deal those specific mechanisms in some detail,illustrating how they work. Diary number three will then look specifically at global warming, as well as some unresolved issues of more general importance.

Discussion begins on the flip.

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