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HomeActivism speeches in environmental controversies: social constructions, legitimisations, limitations

Activism speeches in environmental controversies: social constructions, legitimisations, limitations

Les paroles militantes dans les controverses environnementales : constructions, légitimations, limites

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Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 by João Fernandes


Judging by their increase, envirnomnental controversies are a social phenomenon (Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport, the Sivens dam in France, or the industrialization of goldbearing mines in French Guiana, the exploitation of shale gas in Algeria, the Dakota Access Pipeline in the USA…). Each of them is based on a series of individuals who rise up and express themselves in favor of or against these projects. This symposium aims to study controversies both rhetorical process and means of publicising. We would like to observe how activists forge their discourses and argumentations, how they justify their speeches, as well as the effects of these speeches in the public arenas.


International symposium, Metz, 22, 23 and 24 November 2017


Since the 1970s, social researchers have been studying controversies hugely, particularly in the fields of Pragmatic Sociology andScience and Technology Studies. A lot of studies focus on the definition of “controversies” as an object, the framing of debates, the science’s role in controversies (Chavot, Masseran, 2010 ; 2013), and on the way knowledge gets legitimized. Analyzing controversies in the media is another approach suggested by the two symposiums “Controversies in the media: stakes and epistemology” (2009) and “Scientific journalism in controversies” (2013) organized by the French Institute of Communication Science in the National Center for Scientific Research.

Judging by their increase, controversies are a social phenomenon. Topics like the building of Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport, the Sivens dam in France or the industrialization of goldbearing mines in French Guiana tend to unleash passions. On a worldwide scale, the exploitation of shale gas in In Salah (Algeria) as well as the Dakota Access Pipeline (USA) allowed by Donald Trump show us the development of environmental controversies across the world. Each of them is based on a series of individuals who rise up and express themselves in favor of or against these projects. We can call these debates “controversies” when the topic brings together two opposite sides (e.g. “pros” and “cons”), when it is driven by the exchange of arguments (one side tries to convince the other through argumentation), and when it can be reiterated (we can pause the debate and resume later) (Rennes, 2016: 26). Public speech is a major issue for environmental controversies because it allows discourses and counter-discourses to be expressed (Doury et al., 2015). Speeches of activism are particularly antagonist and dissenting, as suggested by the French magazines Survivre, La Gueule ouverte and Le Sauvage edited by the Green movement. Although environmental controversies and their mobilizations aren’t a completely new phenomenon (Ollitrault, 2008; Vrignon, 2017), we should go further in the analysis of speeches of activism.

This symposium aims to study controversies both rhetorical process (Sans, 2017) and means of publicising (Chavot, Masseran, 2017). We would like to observe how activists forge their discourses and argumentations, how they justify their speeches, as well as the effects of these speeches in the public arenas (Cefaï, 2016). How are arguments constructed? What values do they stand up for? How do speeches of activists are legitimated or delegitimated in the public sphere? These speeches are also a way to tell people how activists commit to a cause through various means of expression (documentaries, testimonies, blogs, etc.). In order to consider controversies as a means for citizens to think and talk about what they can’t control (Danblon, 2007), we need to study activists’ practices from a narrative perspective, build an archeology of their discourses (Angenot, 1989) using methods from Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Media Studies and Anthropology. Considering this, proposals that focus on how activists talk about their careers and actions and how they relate to authority will be strongly appreciated, as well as proposals in regard to the linguistic and rhetorical aspects of activism speeches and the way they are made, broadcasted, published (oral speech, images, mainstream media, web, social media, etc.).

From this perspective, submissions are invited along the following themes:

1)   Building activism identities: designations and careers

Naming a movement is a form of power as it brings credit or discredit to it depending on the words chosen. Actors engaged in environmental controversies chose the ways to talk about their actions and reject those they don’t agree with. Why do they reject or allow some expressions instead of others? What are the social and strategic issues behind those terms? Do actors define themselves as “activists”? “Opponents”? Papers proposed could analyze the genealogy of the terms employed to qualify those groups of action and the representations they subtend. They could also study the social movements that bring together ecology activists such as the Indignados movement (Spain), Nuit Debout (France), Occupy Wall Street (USA), etc. They could focus onthe way media define those movements in order to show how activists’ narratives are made and how they change. Studying categories such as “zadist”, “ecology activist” or “green jihadists” will show how they are represented in the media.

Finally, interrogating the designations of these movements can also be a way for social science researchers to conduct self-reflective analyses: how do researchers name the activists? To what extend does naming influence the choice of methods or even the results?

2)   Legitimating speeches in the public sphere: confronting institutional and critical knowledge

Activism speech will be studied combining the autonomic and institutionalization approaches of the public sphere rather than opposing them (Suraud, 2006). Expertise is very present in public debates and the opponents’ arguments are often dismissed and disqualified. We will focus on how activists make use of communication elements coming from industries, politics, and institutions in order to elaborate their discourse. Do they use green associations’ contents or scientists’ knowledge? Do decision-makers listen to them? How this knowledge contributes to build “agonistic counter-power” so that activists can have an impact on political power? (Fung, Wright, 2005) We will focus on the way activists acquire skills, not only technical skills but also political skills (Barthe, Borraz, 2011), because protests are often a way to learn about how to express ourselves, to deliberate, to organize, to structure a speech. Debating in environmental controversies requires mastering such deliberative and rhetorical skills.

Conversely, papers could focus on the way institutions collect citizen speeches through participatory devices and how they make use of them (Monnoyer-Smith, 2011). To what extend do people agree or disagree with theses uses of their own speeches? Do they see them as actual pictures of that they said? What is the exact usage of activism speeches by institutions?

3)   Activism speech in the media

The third theme is about how counter-publics use the media (Fraser, 2001; Macé, 2006) in order to render their action visible. We will focus on the relation between media and activists, the way they consider journalists, their communication tactics and impacts. What are the political opportunities of activism? (Kitschelt, 1986) What makes activists agree to give information to journalists and express themselves in the media? In this context, we will analyse the development of “critic-media” (Cardon, Granjon, 2013) through social media and social networks, activist journalism, underground publishing. The underground turn in citizen communication needs to be studied. What are the activists’ technical resources to conceive their own media? What is the knowledge required to make underground media? How do they perceive technology (Boullier, 2016)? How do they make use of the web and the social networks? What tools do they use to protect their data, privacy, and identities?

4)     Violence and disobedience: activism speeches and their boundaries

Activism speech raises the question of the boundaries of environmental controversies. Although activism speech can engender a debate with arguments, it can also generate empathy rather than argumentation. When we judge a stance on a moral level (and not only on a rhetorical level), the debate becomes polemical (Nicolas, 2017; Amossy, 2014). When a stance isn’t taken into account in the debate, it can  get hardened and exacerbated, and can lead to streams of abuse, heckles, or even verbal abuse (Fracchiola et al., 2013). This violence can also bring up civil disobedience movements (Hayes, Ollitrault, 2012). Papers will show how verbal abuse takes place within environmental controversies. The goal is to understand to what extent verbal abuse can lead to physical abuse and how we can think violence in social controversies.

Authors could also focus on how activists take violence into account, how they talk about it and what they think of it (Sommier, 2004). Is violence a matter of concern among activists? Why do some of them refuse to participate in actions they consider violent whereas others seem prone to do it? Given the variety of values among activists (Heinich, 2017), it is needed to make a critical inventory of contemporary citizen mobilization movements.


Proposals with theoretical models to study activism speeches are welcomed in various fields (sociology, political science, linguistics, information, media and communication studies …). It is expected that empirical studies focus on actors from “civil society” and citizens engaged into controversies, regardless of the chosen approaches (ethnography, rhetoric, …).

Submission proposals can be made in English or French and will not exceed 8000 characters (spaces included). Proposals will be selected by a double blind evaluation process.

Please send your submission by email to : vincent.carlino@univ-lorraine.fr and marieke.stein@univ-lorraine.fr with “Activism speeches symposium + Your last name” as an object not later than 26 June 2017.

Accepted papers will be re-selected by a double blind evaluation process in order to publish proceedings.

Registration fee

In order to register at the symposium, you must pay:

  • 50 € for full professors
  • 30 € for PhD students

Registration fee give access to the three days of the symposium, lunch, and closing dinner. The accommodation and transport costs must be paid by the participants.

Please register through this online form: (web page under construction)


  • Call for paper: 5 May 2017
  • Submission papers deadline: 26 June 2017

  • Responses to authors: 28 July 2017
  • Symposium: 22, 23, 24 November 2017
  • Proceedings: late 2018


  • Amossy R., 2014, Apologie de la polémique, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.
  • Angenot M., 1989, 1889. Un état du discours social, Longueuil, Éd. Le Préambule.
  • Barthe Y., Borraz O., 2011. “Les controverses sociotechniques au prisme du Parlement”, Quaderni. Communication, technologies, pouvoir, 75, pp. 63-71.
  • Boullier D., 2016, Sociologie du numérique, Paris, A. Colin.
  • Cardon D., Granjon F., 2013, Médiactivistes, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po.
  • Céfaï D., 2016, “Publics, problèmes publics, arènes publiques… Que nous apprend le pragmatisme ?”, Questions de communication, 30, pp. 25-64.
  • Chateauraynaud F., 2011, Argumenter dans un champ de forces. Essai de balistique sociologique, Paris, Pétra.
  • Chavot P., Masseran A., 2010, “Engagement et citoyenneté scientifique : quels enjeux avec quels dispositifs ?”, Questions de communication, 17, pp. 81-106.
  • — dirs, 2013, Les Cultures des sciences en Europe, Nancy, PUN-Éditions universitaires de Lorraine.
  • — 2017, “Controverse publique (sociologie des sciences)”, in : Publictionnaire. Dictionnaire encyclopédique et critique des publics. Access : http://publictionnaire.humanum.fr/notice/controverse-publique-sociologie-des-sciences/.
  • Danblon E., 2007, “Crises rhétoriques, crises démocratiques”, Questions de communication, 12, pp. 7-18.
  • Doury M., Quet M., Tseronis A., 2015, “Le façonnage de la critique par les dispositifs. Le cas du débat sur les nanotechnologies”, Semen. Revue de sémio-linguistique des textes et discours, 39. Access : https://semen.revues.org/10472.
  • Fracchiolla B., Moïse C., Romain C., Auger N., dirs, 2013, Violences verbales analyses, enjeux et perspectives, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.
  • Fraser N., 2001, “L’opinion publique : perspectives anglo-saxonnes. Extrait de Habermas and the Public Sphere, sous la direction de Craig Calhoun, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1992, p. 109142”, trad. de l’américain par M. Valenta, Hermès, 31 (3), pp. 125-156.
  • Fung A., Wright O., 2005. “Le contre-pouvoir dans la démocratie participative et délibérative”, in : Bacqué M.-H., Rey H., Sintomer Y., dirs, Gestion de proximité et démocratie participative. Une perspective comparative. Paris, Éd. La Découverte.
  • Hayes G., Ollitrault S., 2012, La Désobéissance civile, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po.
  • Heinich N., (à paraître en 2017), “Dix propositions sur les valeurs”, Questions de communication, 31.
  • Kitschelt H., 1986, “Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-Nuclear Movements in Four Democracies”, British Journal of Political Science, 16 (1), pp. 57-85.
  • Mabi C., 2013, “Inclusion des publics et matérialité des dispositifs participatifs”,
  • Participations. Revue de sciences sociales sur la démocratie et la citoyenneté, 7, pp. 201-213.
  • Macé É., 2006, “Mouvements et contre-mouvements culturels dans la sphère publique et les médiacultures”, pp. , in : Maigret É., Macé É., dirs, Penser les médiacultures.  Nouvelles pratiques et nouvelles approches de la représentation du monde, Paris, A. Colin.
  • Nicolas L., 2016, “Polémique”, in : Publictionnaire. Dictionnaire encyclopédique et critique des publics. Access : http://publictionnaire.huma-num.fr/notice/polemique/.
  • Ollitrault S., 2008, Militer pour la planète : sociologie des écologistes, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.
  • Pailliart I., 2005, La Publicisation de la science, Grenoble, Presses universitaires de Grenoble.
  • Rennes J., 2016, “Les controverses politiques et leurs frontières”, Études de communication, 47, pp. 21-48.
  • Sans B., 2017, “Controverse (rhétorique)”, in : Publictionnaire. Dictionnaire encyclopédique et critique des publics. Disponible à l’adresse : http://publictionnaire.humanum.fr/notice/controverse-rhetorique/.
  • Sommier I., 2015, La Violence politique et son deuil. L’après 68 en France et en Italie, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.
  • Suraud, M.-G., 2006, “L’espace public : Entre autonomie et institutionnalisation. Le cas d’un débat sur les risques industriels”, Communication,24 (2), pp. 9-28.
  • Vrignon A., 2017, La Naissance de l’écologie politique en France. Une nébuleuse au cœur des années 68, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Steering committee

  • Vincent Carlino, Crem, University of Lorraine (vincent.carlino@univ-lorraine.fr)
  • Marieke Stein, Crem, University of Lorraine (marieke.stein@univ-lorraine.fr)

Organizing committee

  • Loïc Ballarini, Crem, University of Lorraine
  • Cyrille Bodin, Lisec, University of Strasbourg
  • Vincent Carlino, Crem, University of Lorraine
  • Céline Ségur, Crem, University of Lorraine
  • Marieke Stein, Crem, University of Lorraine

Scientific committee

  • Brindusa Amalancei (Faculty of Letters, University of Bacau, Romania)
  • Ruth Amossy (Adarr, University of Tel-Aviv, Israel)
  • Igor Babou (Cerilac, University of Paris-Diderot, France)
  • Rémi Barbier (Engees, University of Strasbourg, France)
  • Camelia Beciu (FJSC, University of Bucarest, Romania)
  • Christophe Bonneuil (CNRS/Centre A. Koyré, Paris, France)
  • Laura Centemeri (EHESS/CNRS, Paris, France)
  • Francis Chateauraynaud (EHESS, Paris, France)
  • Philippe Chavot (Lisec, University of Strasbourg, France)
  • Lilie Chouliaraki (London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom)
  • Guillaume Courty (Ceraps, University of Lille 2, France)
  • Marianne Doury (Irisso, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, France)
  • Peter Dahlgren (Department of Communication and Media, University of Lund, Sweden)
  • Olivier Ejderyan (Usys TdLab, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Ulricke Felt (Faculty of Social Science, University of Vienna, Austria)
  • Nicole Huybens (Larenas, University of Québec at Chicoutimi, Canada)
  • Reiner Keller (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany)
  • Roselyne Koren (Adarr, University of Tel-Aviv, Israel)
  • Clément Mabi (Costech, University of Technology of Compiègne, France)
  • Anne Masseran (Crem, University of Lorraine, France)
  • Laurence Monnoyer-Smith(General Commission for Sustainable Development, Paris, France)
  • Anne Piponnier (Crem, University of Lorraine, France)
  • Daniel Raichvarg (Cimeos, University of Burgundy, France)
  • Juliette Rennes (EHESS/CNRS, Paris, France)
  • Marie-Gabrielle Suraud (Certop, University of Toulouse 3, France)
  • Paul Upham (Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, United Kingdom)
  • Jacques Walter (Crem, University of Lorraine, France)


  • Metz, France (57)


  • Monday, June 26, 2017


  • discours, militantisme, espace public, identité, médiatisation, désobéissance, violence, controverse, environnement


  • Marieke Stein
    courriel : marieke [dot] stein [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr
  • Vincent Carlino
    courriel : vincent [dot] carlino [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr

Information source

  • Marieke Stein
    courriel : marieke [dot] stein [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Activism speeches in environmental controversies: social constructions, legitimisations, limitations », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, https://calenda.org/405780

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