Debate from RSA arts and ecology

This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.

Thought worth bringing this into the Identity Campaigning space – interesting discussion on how this work relates to the role of art, sparked by William Shaw, and titled ‘How we failed to change minds’:

“We know how serious things are. So why doesn’t everyone agree with us? Despite Tim Smit’s  “scream from the future”, attitude change is agonisingly slow.

It’s tough to admit that activists have clearly alienated a lot of the middle ground – the middle ground that needs to change behaviour the most. The us-and-them hostility reinforces bad behaviour. This is pointed up in a new WWF report Meeting Environmental Challenges: The role of human identity which applies identity theory to cultural in-groups and assesses the different groups’ responses to the environmental agenda. It suggests we need a new approach.

Until an understanding of the person is integrated with current environmental strategies, and until the environmental movement begins to tackle these aspects of identity and the social norms and structures that enable them, we fear that responses to the environmental crisis will remain inadequate.

Though it’s light on recommendations, one is clearly that we need to find new levers to change attitudes. Though Madeleine Bunting’s article in today’s Guardian suggests that culture and the arts  have the potential to be that lever, aren’t the arts sometimes the arts are just as guilty of creating in-groups and out-groups as environmental activists?  How much art about the environment is much better talking to people who agree with the artist than who disagree?”

Full discussion is at

Jon AlexanderDebate from RSA arts and ecology


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  • Joe Brewer - July 29, 2009 reply

    Hi Jon,

    I consider the arts to be vitally important, and would even go further to suggest that there is much to be learned from “the arts” more broadly defined to include aspects of pop culture. My friend, Stephen Duncombe (a media studies professor at New York University and consulting partner at my organization), wrote a book back in 2006 called “Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy” that explores the deeper urges that motivate people to participate in mainstream consumer culture for the purpose of understanding the very real fantasies that they seek to fulfill.

    My favorite example from his book is the McDonald’s commercial that tells a story about a father-daughter outing to the park on a beautiful, sunny day. The fantasy is one held by many fathers:

    * Have time to spend with his children;
    * Be loved and appreciated for it;
    * Have healthy and beautiful places to take children (that are safe and wholesome);
    * And so on…

    This fantasy, in true ironic fashion, is used to sell hamburgers and fries that are part of a global production system that is destroying all of these things. And yet, the fantasy is palpable enough to engage parents and give them an urge to take their children to McD’s.

    Much to explore here, of course!


    Joe Brewer

  • Joe Brewer - July 29, 2009 reply

    Oops, it seems there was an html tag that didn’t get closed in my comment. Tom, is it possible to edit this?



  • Tom - August 3, 2009 reply

    Yep, have done!

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