Engaging and Educating: Examining Local Protests and Narratives of Environmental Challenges as Resident Researchers in South Florida

Abstract

 Presenter (s) Eileen Smith-Cavros, Nova Southeastern University

After the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, the co-authors (as resident-researchers) attended protests including environmental themes from the Everglades (south) to West Palm Beach (north). While both authors have previously focused on international research projects, concentrating on local protests provided opportunities to document and analyze events in our own communities while many researchers were focused on national high-attendance protest events. These local opportunities provided a unique regional perspective as well as the unplanned benefit of a lower carbon footprint in terms of research travel to sites as well as presentations at two nearby conferences. As visual sociologists we photographed the varied signs carried by protesters at each of the events in an effort to record, read, and analyze the narratives “told” through the signs. Our examination included the overall protest narratives as well as the ways in which the protesters did the following: 1) identified what was most important to them (in terms of specific themes and topics of importance), 2) used visual methods to communicate their messages to a wider audience, and 3) attempted to educate (e.g. using humor, urgency, creativity, and science) observers on the environmental issues and related challenges. Analyses of the frequency of keywords and visuals and other pieces of the narratives allowed us to consider which of these elements managed by protesters were most common and what the potential implications are for the study of these protests. Students were invited to join us as student-researchers and the data (in the form of sign photographs) were also used in our classrooms to bring these pressing environmental issues and protest narratives to the forefront for discussion. The data inspired discussions about contemporary social movements and related issues from sociological perspectives, bringing these social science topics to academic attention and examination in student-centric, visual, and thought-provoking ways.

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