On 18 February 2014 Maie Kiisel will defence her doctoral thesis "Problems of critical analysis of communication of environmental issues and risks".
Supervisor: Prof Triin Vihalemm, University of Tartu
Opponent: Prof Pekka Sulkunen, University of Helsinki
My doctoral thesis "Problems of critical analysis of communication of environmental issues and risks" focuses on the role of communication in the management of environmental problems. Communication, awareness raising and participation are usually considered central in the mitigation of and finding solutions to environmental problems. My thesis, on the contrary, approaches environmental communication from a critical point of view. I emanate from Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens and most of all, from Niklas Luhmann. Inspired by their views I focussed on the selective and abstracting nature of (environmental) communication. The nature of communication is misleading: it enables individuals to find satisfactory solutions in the short term, but in the long term it raises conditions that impede finding sufficient solutions. This is called the process of incrementalisation, a phenomena that I seek solutions to in my thesis. I must say that the solutions to incrementalism can't be found from everyday intentional problem-oriented practice. For me the solution is not in alarm raising or in the development of participation. It is rather in the conditions that impede the natural development of communication towards incrementalisation. These solutions may not find recognition and approval in individuals' orthodox understanding about problem solving. To find the conditions that sustain incrementalisation and to offer solutions to overcome its paradox I analysed the development of communication of environmental issues and risks in the example of Estonia. My analysis covered the period from the late Soviet time to the present day. I investigated whether the types of the societies of the Soviet and western modernity have affected the way the environmental issues are dealt with and what historical experiences can offer insight to the theoretical analysis of incrementalisation. For this, I examined very different empirical content: participation processes, development of politics, media debate, practices of individuals, and interpretations of environmental and technological risks. An emphasis of my analysis was on the aspects that are invisible to the participants in the communication but are still prevalent and leading in the formation of it.