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Scarce abundance : a critical analysis of Iceland’s renewable energy sector in times of growth’s cultural hegemony

Guðmundsdóttir, Hrönn LU (2014) In Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science MESM01 20141
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
Abstract
Renewable energy is increasingly gaining currency as a sustainable substitute for fossil fuels. Iceland has been framed as one of the world’s renewable energy success cases and the country’s renewable energy production has multiplied in recent decades.
This thesis approaches Iceland’s renewable energy sector from a critical perspective. It investigates the dominant discourse around the expansion of the energy sector in Iceland and its social and environmental consequences. The investigation was carried out by applying Hajer’s argumentative discourse analysis. Empirical material was qualitatively collected through conducting 17 semi-structured interviews and analysing publicly available text-documents, radio and TV broadcasts.... (More)
Renewable energy is increasingly gaining currency as a sustainable substitute for fossil fuels. Iceland has been framed as one of the world’s renewable energy success cases and the country’s renewable energy production has multiplied in recent decades.
This thesis approaches Iceland’s renewable energy sector from a critical perspective. It investigates the dominant discourse around the expansion of the energy sector in Iceland and its social and environmental consequences. The investigation was carried out by applying Hajer’s argumentative discourse analysis. Empirical material was qualitatively collected through conducting 17 semi-structured interviews and analysing publicly available text-documents, radio and TV broadcasts. Quantitative data were gathered through a questionnaire and by reviewing official statistics. The material was analysed in light of Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony. Additional concepts were employed to critically highlight flaws in the dominant discourse. These concepts are: Ecological modernisation, carbon fetishism and depoliticization.
The results show that a) the dominant discourse promotes an expansion of the energy sector at the expense of Icelandic nature, b) it does so – among other things – by contrasting capitalism's notion of scarcity with the notion of abundance attributed to Iceland's natural resources, c) the dominant discourse is heavily influenced by ecological modernisation (EM) and uncritically adopts its rationale and also its shortcomings, and d) the dominant discourse preserves its hegemonic status despite its inherent contradictions and negative side-effects by attempting to conceal conflicts over resource utilisation and by marginalising critical views. Despite the full adoption of EM as guiding principle for the expansion of the energy sector Iceland has not experienced the fulfilment of the promises that come with EM. In other words, a reconciliation of environment and economy has not taken place as is demonstrated by Iceland's growing CO2 emissions and environmental degradation while companies in the energy sector experience ongoing financial difficulties.
This thesis concluded that environmental politics cannot be reduced to argumentative struggles, as Hajer suggests. Alternative discourses can only gain ground if the cultural hegemony of the dominant discourse is met with resistance on all levels of social life; in thoughts, norms and beliefs. (Less)
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author
Guðmundsdóttir, Hrönn LU
supervisor
organization
course
MESM01 20141
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
Sustainability science, ecological modernisation, hydropower and geothermal energy, carbon fetishism, argumentative discourse analysis
publication/series
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science
report number
2014:016
language
English
id
4463451
date added to LUP
2014-06-16 10:38:55
date last changed
2015-05-04 09:49:31
@misc{4463451,
  abstract     = {Renewable energy is increasingly gaining currency as a sustainable substitute for fossil fuels. Iceland has been framed as one of the world’s renewable energy success cases and the country’s renewable energy production has multiplied in recent decades.
 This thesis approaches Iceland’s renewable energy sector from a critical perspective. It investigates the dominant discourse around the expansion of the energy sector in Iceland and its social and environmental consequences. The investigation was carried out by applying Hajer’s argumentative discourse analysis. Empirical material was qualitatively collected through conducting 17 semi-structured interviews and analysing publicly available text-documents, radio and TV broadcasts. Quantitative data were gathered through a questionnaire and by reviewing official statistics. The material was analysed in light of Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony. Additional concepts were employed to critically highlight flaws in the dominant discourse. These concepts are: Ecological modernisation, carbon fetishism and depoliticization.
 The results show that a) the dominant discourse promotes an expansion of the energy sector at the expense of Icelandic nature, b) it does so – among other things – by contrasting capitalism's notion of scarcity with the notion of abundance attributed to Iceland's natural resources, c) the dominant discourse is heavily influenced by ecological modernisation (EM) and uncritically adopts its rationale and also its shortcomings, and d) the dominant discourse preserves its hegemonic status despite its inherent contradictions and negative side-effects by attempting to conceal conflicts over resource utilisation and by marginalising critical views. Despite the full adoption of EM as guiding principle for the expansion of the energy sector Iceland has not experienced the fulfilment of the promises that come with EM. In other words, a reconciliation of environment and economy has not taken place as is demonstrated by Iceland's growing CO2 emissions and environmental degradation while companies in the energy sector experience ongoing financial difficulties. 
 This thesis concluded that environmental politics cannot be reduced to argumentative struggles, as Hajer suggests. Alternative discourses can only gain ground if the cultural hegemony of the dominant discourse is met with resistance on all levels of social life; in thoughts, norms and beliefs.},
  author       = {Guðmundsdóttir, Hrönn},
  keyword      = {Sustainability science,ecological modernisation,hydropower and geothermal energy,carbon fetishism,argumentative discourse analysis},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science},
  title        = {Scarce abundance : a critical analysis of Iceland’s renewable energy sector in times of growth’s cultural hegemony},
  year         = {2014},
}