Institute for Science and Society

Climate Change as a Complex Social Issue

From Greenhouse Effect to Climategate

Public debates about climate change have been characterised by slow periods of consensus and concern but also by sudden peaks in attention and controversy. In recent decades, the public debate surrounding man-made climate change has evolved from climate scientists' warnings about the 'greenhouse effect' and the rise in media attention to this complex problem in the 1980s and 1990s to public distrust sparked by 'climategate' in 2009.

CSET Building

This multiple complexity makes climate change not only a fascinating case for research into the relation between science and society, the dynamics of communication, the emergence and development of protest movements, but also for a systematic, comparative study of the dynamics of social change and human responses to social change.

  • What brings about these patterns of interest and engagement or else doubt and denial in relation to climate change?
  • Who are the social actors that cause them?
  • What is the role of language (and especially of metaphor)? 
  • What are the social representations surrounding climate change and how are they formed? 
  • How do social actors respond to these representations? 
  • How are all these factors interlinked?
  • And what role do social and technological networks play in this process?

Drawing upon theory from sociology, linguistics and social psychology, researchers from the UK and the Netherlands explore these questions in an ESRC/ORA-funded multi-methodological project dealing with climate change as a complex social issue.

The project comprised four work packages including various studies:

  • WP1: Longitudinal analysis
    Study 1: US/UK press coverage, 2000-2009; linguistic patterns; similiarities and differences between two nations speaking a common language; using multi-dimensional scaling and interterm interval analysis; search term: carbon
  • WP2: Actors, domains and organizations
  • WP3: Namings, framings and metaphors
    Study 1: Media representations of climate change in the 1988 British Press
  • WP4: Spread of concepts (over time) and resonance (across discourses) on the Web

Research outputs

View a list of publications related to the project.

Relevant literature

View literature on climate change, media and communication.

Related projects

Find out more information on current related projects.

Series funded by:

Project funded by ESRC Open Research Area Scheme in collaboration with the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.



Research team

This project brings together researchers working in a variety of disciplines and theoretical traditions:

  • Professor Brigitte Nerlich, University of Nottingham, School of Sociology and Social Policy, Institute for Science and Society
  • Dr Iina Hellsten, VU Amsterdam, Faculty of Social Sciences, Organization Science
  • Dr Nelya Koteyko, University of Leicester, Department of Media and Communication
  • Dr Kim Holberg, VU Amsterdam, Faculty of Social Sciences, Organisation Science
  • Luke Collins, University of Nottingham, School of Sociology and Social Policy, Institute for Science and Society
  • Associate member of the team: Dr Rusi Jaspal, De Montfort University, Leicester


Institute for Science and Society

School of Sociology and Social Policy
Law and Social Sciences building
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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