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Reviewed by:
  • Social Movement to Address Climate Change: Local Steps for Global Action
  • Dylan Wolfe
Social Movement to Address Climate Change: Local Steps for Global Action. Edited by Danielle Endres, Leah Sprain, and Tarla Rai Peterson. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2009; pp xxi + 497. $134.99 cloth.

Leland Griffin’s influential 1952 essay, “The Rhetoric of Historical Movements,” which urges the inclusion of public address in the study of rhetoric, pointed out that the study of historical movements offers the opportunity for multiple analyses from varying perspectives and foci. The goal of such study, he argued, was the identification and accumulation of rhetorical patterns. Since his essay, rhetorical study of social movements has grown nearly to subdiscipline status. Until now, however, there had been no coordinated attempt to generate an accumulation of studies specifically related to a particular social movement event. Endres, Sprain, and Peterson’s collection of essays not only produces this accumulation, it does so with a scope well beyond anything preceding it. For scholars of public address, this book provides realization of Griffin’s goals or, borrowing his extraordinary metaphor, places a moment on a spit, piercing it from different directions, and building a synergy of perspectives and conclusions.

Social Movement to Address Climate Change: Local Steps for Global Action is the product of a highly organized research effort undertaken to answer the loft y question, “What does it take to build a movement in the twenty-first century?” (5). The uniqueness of this endeavor should not be understated, as the process of this volume’s creation is as important as its analysis and findings. The editors coordinated eight research teams to examine seventeen simultaneously occurring events across nine different U.S. states. These events were among the hundreds of rallies and media events that took place on April 14, 2007, as a part of the Step It Up (SIU) campaign founded by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. Because these events were expressly designed to initiate a powerful new social movement focused on the issue of climate change, they provided a unique opportunity to engage the editors’ questions about building twentieth-century movements. [End Page 391]

Contributors to the research project not only collected speech transcripts, field notes, interviews, photographs, and other materials but also shared this information in a collective database. This approach allowed each of the authors to draw upon collective resources. The danger of replication in the final essays was largely avoided through both topical and methodological diversity. Included in the book are analyses of identity creation, community art, media coverage, the use of new media technology, dissent, image events, and the rhetoric of science. These topics are covered from diverse perspectives within the public address tradition and well beyond.

Structurally, the book opens with an introductory section including a forward by McKibben, an excellent review of the volume’s unique process and content, and the first of several speech and interview transcripts labeled as “Interludes.” Part I of the collection, “Rhetorical Framing,” includes two essays discussing the rhetorical challenges and opportunities available to an emergent movement and two essays reviewing the rhetorical choices made by different local advocate groups. Part II, “Modes of Organizing,” contains three essays that specifically assess issues of collective action and group identification. Finally, the six essays included in Part III, “Practices of Citizenship,” focus on the unique characteristics of social movement advocacy in the twenty-first century. Here the essays move between digital communication, visual media, and the role of the contemporary public intellectual.

Although many of the chapters in the volume include theories and approaches familiar to scholars of rhetoric and public address, a number of essays are based primarily on organizational communication, as well as broader discussions of media studies and social theories. This could make the collection less applicable for use in some teaching contexts, but it also replicates the contemporary landscape of social movement study. There is significant potential, in other words, to utilize this text as a means of illustrating how various approaches to communication study lead to a multiplicity of research and analytical foci. This illustration is clearest when comparing the chapters that focus on evaluation of the movement. For example, in...


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