Presenting at the Science and Democracy Network at Harvard

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The Science and Democracy Network (SDN) was established in 2002 to enhance the quality and significance of scholarship in science and technology studies (STS) by training young professionals and by forging links between STS and related fields of study and practice, such as anthropology, political science, international relations, and law. In late August 2019, the 18th Annual Meeting was held at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA (see the program here).

We provided a critical reading of the school strikes around the world, linking the movement to questions of social and political order.

An inconvenient youth? How school protests challenge established climate politics

In December 2015, political leaders celebrated the Paris Agreement as a milestone in the global fight against climate change. Three years later, Greta Thunberg’s school strike outside the Swedish parliament inspired thousands of students around the world to protest against their political leaders’ inability to respond to climate change adequately. Envisioning livable climate futures for generations to come, the emerging ‘Fridays for Future’ (FFF) movement urges governments to take more radical action on climate change. We argue that these protests contest climate skeptics as well as delays in climate politics, but largely fail to challenge a techno-centric, apolitical and market-driven understanding of climate change. Aiming to understand the divides between a perceived sciento-political consensus on the urgency of climate change and alternative visions provided by the school protests as well as ideological tensions within the FFF movement, we analyze the self-understanding of the movement as well as the public discourse around these protests in Germany. While Germany portrays itself as a pioneer in moving an industry-based economy towards decarbonization, school protests have quickly emerged and stabilized here. We explore the strategies and narratives employed by the FFF protestors who express not only the need for climate action but also call for broader societal change. We study the tensions between government-driven climate politics and student-led visions through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries. Our study draws upon a discourse analysis based on news articles, official documents, and speeches, as well as qualitative interviews with FFF youth activists to identify competing imaginaries and themes of contestation. We conclude that current school protests are not only about climate action but reflect more fundamental political struggles about competing visions of a future society in times of climate change.


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