Understanding normative change to address the climate emergency

How to galvanise climate action

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow Dr Viktoria Spaiser studies how social change can be accelerated in response to the climate crisis.

UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship
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In 2019 the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz declared that “The climate crisis is our third world war”. Many scientists and politicians agree that the efforts required to prevent catastrophic climate change are indeed comparable with or will exceed the efforts mobilised during the Second World War. An increasing number of countries, cities, organizations are declaring climate emergency and committing to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 or even 2030. But it is unclear how this commitment can be reached and how the population can be rallied behind the necessary but currently unpopular policies that must be implemented.

This challenge is also a puzzle in social science research. The required extent and pace of necessary social change in response to climate emergency is unprecedented and so existing theories of change are inadequate in specifying pathways of social transformation. This research will generate insights into how we can affect and accelerate social change (i.e. structural and behavioural change) to contribute to preventing the catastrophes that climate science tells us lie ahead. This will close the social science research gap on rapid social learning and help to answer political questions about how robust climate change policies can gather broad popular support.

The focus of the study will lie on social change driven by normative change. Differently from values, which define what people consider important to them, social norms define behaviours and attitudes that are considered acceptable in a society. As such norms have a more direct impact on behaviours and institutions. Previous research indicates that normative change (changes to social norms) can lead to social change on a large scale. We will investigate to what extent recent global climate protests such as Fridays For Futures, have set in motion normative change that is contesting existing norms regarded as inadequate in response to climate emergency. We will study what new norms are emerging, how they can diffuse through societal networks amplified through social innovators and opinion leaders, and how this process can be accelerated so that it can contribute to wider social change . We will also analyse resistance to normative change, apparent for instance in populist attacks on climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg. Do “norm antipreneurs” inhibit changes in social norms among the wider population and policy makers? And what role do fallible psychological defence mechanisms in response to climate change threat play? How can we facilitate empowering and adequate responses to the climate crisis?

We will use various data sources (including social media data, experimental data, survey data, elections data, parliamentary data, reports and qualitative interviews) along with a wide range of analysis approaches (computational, quantitative, qualitative) to understand the processes and dynamics of normative and wider social change. In collaboration with civil society actors and policy makers we want ultimately to develop strategies for accelerating social change in response to the climate crisis.

Contact:

Dr Viktoria Spaiser, Principal Investigator (PI)/ UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, v.spaiser@leeds.ac.uk and on Twitter: viktoria_sp
Dr Nicole Nisbett, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, n.nisbett@leeds.ac.uk and on Twitter: NicoleDNisbett

Output

Academic Output

  • Spaiser, V.; Nisbett, N.; Stefan, C. (2022): How dare you? – The Normative Challenge posed by Fridays for Future. PLoS Climate, 1(10): e0000053. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000053 
  • Nisbett, N.; Spaiser, V. (2022): The Moral Power of Youth Climate Activists – Transforming International Climate Politics? Working Paper on SocArXiv: osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/5zsra
  • Spaiser, V.; Dunn, K.; Milner, P.; Moore, J. (2022): Climate Change Threat and Authoritarianism: Initial Experimental Evidence and Open Questions. Working Paper on PsyArXiv: https://psyarxiv.com/qftvc

Blogs

Podcasts

Videos

Impact

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Dr Viktoria Spaiser and Dr Cristina Leston Bandeira have contributed to a report published by the House of Lords, Environment...

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Positive social transformation can start with challenging the normalisation of thinking and practices that keep us trapped within the Climate Crisis. See the new paper in PLOS Climate: “How dare you?”—The normative challenge posed by Fridays For Future

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POLIS Associate Professor, Dr Viktoria Spaiser, and Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Nicole Nisbett, have recently appeared on Ilkley Literature Festival’s podcast,...

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Centre for Democratic Engagement members Dr Viktoria Spaiser and Dr Nicole Nisbett are going to the COP26 in Glasgow as...

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