Reconceptualizing the individual as a social actor in environmental communication

Authored by: Julia B. Corbett

Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138053137
eBook ISBN: 9781315167343
Adobe ISBN:


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The chapter urges environmental communicators and scholars to reconceptualize the individual as a social actor who is the product of interactions and experiences at the social and macro-institutional levels. Numerous limitations of the traditional individual focus are discussed: individuals are not autonomous and independent in their beliefs and actions; an individual focus mistakes personal change for social change; significant barriers affect individual action; and voluntary individual action is woefully insufficient to address environmental collective action problems. In contrast, seeing individuals as social actors involves the power of social norms, how “facts” are given life and meaning communally, and how individual behavior is socially organized. A holistic view of individual behavior recognizes these meso-level factors, as well as role of the physical environment, and the political and economic systems. Considerations are discussed for environmental communication and research that embody this broad, cross-cutting approach.

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