USNC Professional Team

Framing as a strategy for developing climate change adaptation policies

Karen Langbehn
Started by Karen Langbehn on
14 Mar 2013 at 14:15
PhD Candidate, Applied Rhetoric of Science , University of South Florida
Know-how: Public Value Mapping , Water Security , Policy Analysis & Adaptation

Below, I'm including information about my scholarship within rhetoric of science, and how that connects with the USNC program ... "rhetoric" often incites a lot of confusion and skepticism, so I hope to trace out the implications of my angle as clearly as possible ... looking forward to becoming familiar with everyone's interests/expertise. 


The USNC program is a direct extension of the Resilient Tampa Bay Knowledge Exchange (of which I was involved in 2011 and am currently writing about) because the practical, outcome-driven objectives of the USNC put into action the rhetorical challenge of the Resilient Tampa Bay Knowledge Exchange: namely, to "talk about climate change without using the terms 'climate' and 'change.'"

My scholarship within the sub-field of the rhetoric of science follows the methodologically rigorous research of rhetoric of science experts (Fahnestock, Conduit, Ceccarelli), and for that reason, I propose that rhetorical strategies can be exceedingly useful to the USNC program’s goal of developing nonpartisan policy recommendations for climate change adaptation – and, most importantly, a timely response to vulnerabilities like sea level rise. A rhetorician is inherently useful to this particular challenge because of a skill in methods and strategies of argumentation and persuasion, audience analysis, and most importantly, an ability to synthesize interdisciplinary conversations (a method called “framing”) into language that appeals to policy-makers.

Additionally, the practical skills of a rhetorician/writer, such as technical and professional writing, strategies for argumentative and persuasive writing, audience analysis, and experience in writing consulting and modes of collaborative invention, will prove extremely useful to accomplishing the longer-term goal of the USNC program: producing a policy-driven argument about recommendations for adaptation to sea level rise.

Below, I have identified and described how I will apply rhetoric of science research methods to USNC fieldwork, research, and writing.


Although rhetoricians of science adhere to various methods of research, a number of them (e.g. Gaonkar, 1997) perceive of answers to seemingly incommensurable issues, such as “talking about climate change without using the terms ‘climate’ or ‘change,’” (i.e. developing nonpartisan solutions) as an opportunity to apply a research method called “framing.”

A frame is "a normative-prescriptive story that sets out a problematic policy problem and a course of action to be taken to address the problematic situation ... it provides a conceptual coherence, a direction for action, a basis for persuasion, and a framework for collecting and analyzing data" (Verduijn, 2012, p. 470). It matters how we frame the environmental, economic, and social challenges of adaptation because it is proven (Fillmore, n.d.; Goldberg, 1994; Lakoff, 1980, 1987, 1989, 1993, 2000, 2010; Langacker, 1987, 1991) that frames powerfully affect the way in which stakeholders use and react to knowledge. According to Lakoff (University of California-Berkeley distinguished professor of cognitive science/linguistics and advisor of hundreds of environmental organizations on framing issues) “all of our knowledge makes use of frames and every word is defined through the frames it neurally activates. All thinking and talking involves ‘framing’ … and [therefore] truth must be framed effectively to be seen at all - [which] is why an understanding of framing matters” (Lakoff, 2010, p. 80). Given the existing partisan divide regarding the certainty/uncertainty of climate science, many rhetorical and environmental communications studies scholars (i.e. Besel, Latour, Callon, Law, etc.) argue that conversations (and therefore potential policy) about climate science is "black-boxed" (closed) because both sides of the debate are "accepted and used ... as a matter of fact" (Besel). Because the same term, "climate change," is used to frame both "facts" (certainty and uncertainty) different-but-related language is required in order to provide opportunities for deliberation about adaptation policy. Thus, the challenge to "talk about climate change without using the terms 'climate' or 'change' points directly to rhetorical theory and specifically, the necessity of building a new frame for climate change communications and policy.

Although Dutch studies (e.g. Verduijn et al., 2012) about the success of framing strategies for initiating climate change adaptation policies for managing water safety and sustainability (despite the absence of a water management crisis) exist, to date, no U.S. scholarship addresses the power of framing methodologies for the development of water management policy recommendations. Existing literature confirms that "scholars are preoccupied with discussions on ontology, cognitions, and interactions and therefore tend to overlook the actual use and power of framing through strategies like ... rhetoric" (Verduijn, 2012, p. 481). For these reasons, I see a timely opportunity for extending this research and practice – informed by Dutch water management and management research expertise (e.g. Verduijn, Meijerink, & Leroy, 2012) – by addressing three specific and related research questions cited in Lakoff’s “Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment” (2010).

Lakoff’s three research questions are:

•       How can an understanding of framing guide policy?

•       What framing gaps are there (i.e. the “science-practice gap”of climate change communications and adaptation) and how do we fill them?

•       How can the right frames get institutionalized? 

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