The changing face of hegemony and the politics of unsustainability: eco-political discourse in The Globe and Mail editorials, 1960-2016

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University of New Brunswick


The purpose of this research is to gain a deeper understanding of pathological failure of highly developed nations to meaningfully confront the ecological challenge of the 21st century. Ingolfur Blühdorn theorizes that this ongoing political failure reflects a paradigmatic shift in the cultural-historical context within which eco-politics are played out, a transformation he labels the ‘post-ecologist turn.' He posits that the 1970s cultural zeitgeist, which embodied egalitarianism, ecological rationality, and socio-cultural integrity, has been exhausted as a plausible alternative construct to inspire environmental politics, undermined by a hyper-materialist cultural turn. This has given rise to a ‘politics of unsustainability,’ in which the seriousness of the eco-crisis is acknowledged, while at the same time, the systems that have produced the crisis are fiercely and unconditionally defended; in other words, politics is preoccupied with 'sustaining the unsustainable.' This dissertation investigates the plausibility of the theory of post-ecologism as the condition of particular historical-political processes in the Canadian context. Informed by a neo-Gramscian political theory of discourse, I employ a critical discourse-historical methodology in analysing the trajectory of eco-political discourse in The Globe and Mail editorials over a 56-year period, from 1960 to 2016. This paper was chosen because of its status as the national newspaper of record for political, business and intellectual elites across the political spectrum; therefore, its editorial position contributes to the hegemonic voice on public affairs. In the first half of the study period, the establishment paper strongly supported an aggressive environmental agenda. A clear and relatively abrupt shift in discourse occurs between 1987 and 1992, consistent with the hegemonization of neoliberalism throughout Western democracies. Editorial framing aligns with Blühdorn’s characterization of the post-ecologist turn, revealing that Blühdorn’s theory of a post-ecologist politics of unsustainability is plausible in the Canadian context, and has some explanatory power regarding the widespread failure to deal with the eco-climate crisis.