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Intersections of right-wing populism and (un)just rural energy transitions in Portugal as communicative and socio-spatial practices

Principal researcher: Ana Isabel Afonso

External principal researcher: Susana Batel (CIS-IUL)

Research group: Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography


Keywords

Energy justice | Right-wing populism | Media communication | Rural communities and landscapes

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)

Partners

CIS-IUL (coord.)

State

Open

Start date

01-12-2021

End date

30-04-2023

Reference

EXPL/COM-CSS/1510/2021


Abstract

One of the major problems faced by contemporary climate-changed and globalised societies is increasing land use pressure, especially in rural areas, with climate change-induced natural disasters and political conflicts driving the migration of individuals and communities, together with policies for the deployment of large-scale renewable energy infrastructures for mitigating climate change. In fact, a growing body of social sciences’ research has been concerned with understanding why, despite people tending to agree with renewable energy generation in general, local resistance to the deployment of renewable energy infrastructures is often found. This body of research has been driven by trying to understand local opposition to renewable energy infrastructures in order to overcome it. However, more recent and critical approaches to this research have begun to highlight that (1) increased local resistance might be due to the fact that renewable energy transitions can entail as many social and environmental justice issues as the non-renewable status quo; and that (2) the rise of right-wing populist socio-political configurations and communication might also be pushing for climate change skepticism and an associated backlash to renewable energy transitions. However, most research so far has failed to bring those two lines of research together and to explore how the communicative and socio-spatial organization of the so-called renewable energy transitions, so far mainly materialized through the top-down and non-participatory deployment of large-scale renewable energy infrastructures such as wind and solar farms, might also contribute to the adherence of communities to mass communicated right-wing populist framings, such as on anti-elitism, nationalism and nativism, which could, in turn, foster local resistance not only to energy transitions but also to social inclusion and diversity. In fact, the results of the most recent Portuguese presidential elections (2021) have shown that rural areas displayed a higher support for the Portuguese right-wing populist party. This suggests current relevance in exploring how the Portuguese media are portraying the right-wing populist party and associated discourses and representations, including in relation to the climate crisis and the energy transition; and to rural communities and landscapes and their role in national identities and projects. As such, this project aims to explore if, to what extent and how, individuals’ and communities’ socio-political positioning and representations in rural areas in Portugal are socio-spatially and discursively organised, this is, related with right-wing populist discourses and communication being disseminated by the media, such as on place and national identities; and associated environmental and land use conflicts and pressures, such as those now being fostered by the deployment of large-scale renewable energy infrastructures. To do so, this project will integrate conceptual imports from media and socio-cultural communication studies and from social and cultural anthropology and psychology on populism, energy justice, rural studies and climate change. Two studies will be conducted – first, a media analysis (of national, regional and local newspapers, the latter two focusing on the two case studies below), to examine how media discourses and communication represent renewable energy in Portugal and if and how those are related with discourses on socio-political issues, namely related with the extreme right-wing party Chega and with its main vertical and horizontal populist claims – being against the elites and giving the power back to the people and the nation, and discriminating against certain ethnic/racial groups; and second, an ethnographic study, including narrative interviews and focus groups with community members and other relevant local stakeholders in rural areas that have been and will continue to be affected by the deployment of large scale renewable energy generation and associated infrastructures. This second study will be conducted in two cases studies: wind farm in Graciosa (Azores), an island located in the first Portuguese regional government to elect a coalition with Chega in October 2020; and communities in the area of Castelo de Vide where solar plants exist along with the plan to construct one of the largest solar plants in the country, and located in one of the Portuguese districts (Portalegre) that gave more votes to the Chega presidential candidate in January 2021. The project’s team includes experts on the socio-cultural, psychological and spatial dimensions of (renewable) energy transitions and of right-wing populism. Key findings will be disseminated to local communities and to the general public and the project will thus contribute to the promotion of more socially and environmentally just societies.

Team

Full members

Luís Silva

Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography