Between Reason and Emotion: A Casestudy of Extinction Rebellion

Trine Sofie Rasmussen, Suheeshan Thevathas & Benjamin Dante

Student thesis: Master thesis


Recent years have seen an eruption of social movements spreading its ashes over western democracies with claims of radical change in both the social and political domains. These social campaigns are transcending digital and national borders at a pace never seen before with ambitions of disrupting existing frames within western democratic ideals. In the twenty-first century social movements are an ever-changing domain which in light of its growing reverberation in the political forces us to reimagine what is possible within our societies. This led to this research papers initial interest to investigate how social movements of today communicate and organize in an effort to disrupt business as usual. In the field of social movements, one particularly caught our eye; climate activist movement Extinction Rebellion, which demands radical change and action both of and from the current political systems. The movement saw the light of day in 2018 and have since manifested its name as an undeniable voice in discourses of climate change. With its unprecedented growth in scale, an anti-establishment focal point and activism through non-violent direct action, we have found the movement to be a compelling case to analyze from both a theoretical and societal perspective. Exploring this, we ask how Extinction Rebellion constructs meaning through its anti-establishment position in both rational and affective registers. Furthermore, we explore what consequences this have for the movement to lead through participation. Drawing on concepts from Ernesto Laclau & Chantal Mouffes discourse theory (1985; 2002) we find that Extinction Rebellions communication produces both agonistic and antagonistic frontiers through discourses of disruption and truth in rational registers. In Extinction Rebellions discourses on disruption, we explore how the movement constructs meaning in its opposition to the political, but also to other climate movements. In a discourse on truth, we explore how the movement uses a veracity to build capacities to act. Through these constructions we further explore our findings when building on our analytical frames through theoretical concepts of affective governmentality (Massumi, 2015; Seeck & Mannevuo, 2019; Bjerg & Staunæs, 2011). Through our discourse-affective lens we conclude that Extinction Rebellions communication in affective registers of urgency and safety has a potential: i) to mobilize the masses through affective pushes of emergency and constructions of time, and ii) to retain the activist and potentialize a transgressive behavior from within. All of which we ultimately find having a potential to catalyze Extinction Rebellions political argument as rationality forms the spear to strike in the heart of the deliberative democracy, with the people’s anger, hope and love as the affective force behind their argument. Based on our analytical findings we discuss inevitable potentials and limitations we find in the cascade of rationality and affect. We assess that this interconnection is a complex formation of both potent and inadvertent potentials for the movement to lead through participation.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages121
SupervisorsJustine Grønbæk Pors