As I write this, I find myself en route to Washington, D.C., for the National Council for Science and the Environment’s 15th national conference, on Energy and Climate Change — more than a bit excited!
For me, this is a tremendous opportunity to listen to some of the key actors behind energy and climate change policy in the United States, including EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, White House director of Science & Technology policy John Holdren, former Energy Secretary (Gov.) Bill Richardson, and others. In other words, this is a fantastic venue to immerse myself in “policy talk,” and understand the logics and narratives adopted by the “movers and shakers” of climate change policy and sustainable growth.
Recently, my research has increasingly noted the impact of regional, state, and federal policy on everyday practices of sustainable organizing, which are then enacted or “talked into being” via the communicative practices in “ordinary” workplaces or organizational settings. Even as I have sought to understand these local frames and modes of communication, what has emerged for me is the importance of connecting the dots, as it were, to understand how these local practices are in-formed by, and in turn inform, broader policy structures. I take this to be markedly different from saying that micro-level interactional discourses are connected to macro-level societal and cultural discourses — because of course they are — but it involves noting how policy formations are themselves discursive acts, despite their seemingly permanent or “given” nature. One way of thinking about these policy/practice links might be structuration theory, or the ongoing enactment of structure through action, and vice versa. But most instances of structuration theory by communication scholars focus on bounded organizations, studying how technologies or other organizational structures in specific settings influence human action (and vice versa), with the exception of Heather Canary’s work that I’ve been reading up on lately. Thus, while in my scholarship thus far, I have examined the intersection of policy and practice from a discourse perspective (e.g., critical discourse analysis, discourse technologisation), I am increasingly interested in the role of policy itself as a form of “structure-as-talk” that Canary’s “structurating activity theory” might allow — especially in the context of energy and climate change policy, and their implications for societal and organizational sustainability.
So, even as I attend the NCSE conference, you can be sure that my head will be swimming with visions of Anthony Giddens, structure, and agency, trying to make sense of how policy translates into talk, and talk in-forms policy. Wish me luck! 🙂