Fractured Discourse: Social Representations Of Shale Gas Development Via Hydraulic Fracturing

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Herein I investigate the nature and emergence of social representations of shale gas development (often called "fracking"). Social representations are common sense understandings of complex, novel phenomena generated in the public sphere via communal discourse. I triangulate between results from (1) a content analysis of regional newspaper coverage, (2) in-depth interviews, (3) field visits to communities discussing and engaged in development, and (4) a survey of residents in areas experiencing development and/or heightened discourse about potential development. My results reveal that these representations: (1) are limited in scope, (2) often relate to difficult to quantify social effects of development that are value-based, (3) are ethically-derived, (4) are historically-, culturally-, and socially-dependent, and (5) predict (rather than derive from) beliefs about effects of development. The grounding of key representations in values and ethical considerations intimates a very different public understanding of this issue than one in which representations are based primarily on potential economic and environmental effects of shale gas development, such as job creation and water contamination. The limited scope of representations highlights an expansive range of topics that are neglected in discourse on shale gas development. The causal primacy of summary views of development over beliefs about effects of development is this dissertation's most striking finding. Contrary to much empirical research on public perceptions of development and theoretical background applied to understanding these perceptions, both the data herein and social representations theory support valenced positions on shale gas development leading to beliefs about likelihood of impacts of development occurring, and to beliefs about the effects of those impacts on quality of life. This connotes substantial challenges for communicating about shale gas development in a way that affects summary views on this issue; likewise it portends further obstacles to alighting on policies/regulation of development that the public will broadly accept. I discuss the implications of all the aforementioned findings for communication about and policy on shale gas development. Finally, I reflect on the value of social representations theory for studying social psychology of energy development and offer recommendations for further improving the methodological rigor of social representations research.

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shale gas; social representations; fracking


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Decker, Daniel Joseph
Stedman, Richard Clark

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McComas, Katherine Anne
Stedman, Richard Clark
Brown, David L
Walter, Michael Todd
Decker, Daniel Joseph
McComas, Katherine Anne

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Natural Resources

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Ph. D., Natural Resources

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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