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The climate emergency and social power in the contemporary public sphere

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posted on 2022-10-06, 04:59 authored by Roslyn Walker

In September 2019, an estimate of over six million people across 185 countries joined climate activist Greta Thunberg to participate in the school climate strikes. In Australia an estimate of 300,000 people attended the strike events demanding the Australian government take action to counter climate change. While Australian businesses and state governments have a net zero emissions goal by 2050, the Australian government has not mandated a net zero emissions target.

Using the school climate strikes in Australia as a case study, this research asks critical questions about the nature of democracy and the role of the traditional media and social media in the contemporary public sphere: How are young people using media to advocate for climate action to protect their future? By employing a qualitative textual analysis of #ClimateStrike and #ClimateHoax hashtags during the climate strikes of September and December 2019, this research offers insight into the participation of young people in the public sphere and the power of discourse on social media. This research draws on the works of public sphere theorists Jürgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, and Axel Bruns to provide a framework for identifying the influence of social power in the contemporary public sphere.

This thesis argues that while the inability to vote denies young people the democratic authority to influence government action, they are nevertheless shaping public debate by contesting the narratives of climate change denial in the contemporary public sphere. By building a collective voice through a shared narrative across social media, young people are exercising social power in the contemporary public sphere. 

This thesis provides an important contribution in the fields of youth and social media studies.


Table of Contents

Chapter one: Literature review -- Chapter two: Generation Z and the climate emergency -- Chapter three: Post-truth and climate delay -- Chapter four: Unpacking social power and the public sphere -- Chapter five: Voices of climate change -- Chapter six: Conclusion -- References


This thesis is submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Research

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, 2020

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Catharine Lumby


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