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Outside the Frame. Framing strategies in the climate change movement

Recently, we have become increasingly aware of the problem of climate change. A lot of civic organizations and private individuals started attracting the attention of a wider public towards different aspects of this complex topic. One of the reasons for this complexity would be the fact that climate change is not always that obvious and, therefore, we have to rely on data that is not the result of our personal experience or observations, insofar as we receive the biggest part of the information about climate change from a variety of media. They define what data, in what form will be transmitted to the viewers. In other words, how messages are framed has a significant impact on a viewer’s perception. This is often used in communication, rendering some aspects more prominent and hiding the inconvenient ones to shape public opinion on certain issues. But what if there is still something outside the frame but important to us which could completely change our perception? What will happen if we expand the borders of the usual frames?

This research is not intended to evaluate the reliability of scientific data. It is meant to provide an alternative way to look at how scientific data can be framed to fit a target group, and why it ultimately leads to an opposite understanding of the problem. This study aims to identify and explore framing strategies in the climate-change movement and develop de-biasing methods. We mainly know about the influence of linguistic framing, but visual framing has not yet been the subject of a detailed study. Therefore, in this master thesis I shall argue in favour of the importance of visual communication for the presentation of scientific data related to climate change in the context of discursive design. The main idea is to involve the human intellect and stimulate independent learning without providing ready-made solutions; its whole purpose is to motivate viewers to find the solution themselves.

The practical output of this study is to develop visual aids for a de-biasing of the framing effect. During my research, two opposed scientific points of view about climate change were identified. Their importance is due to the fact, that all further forecasts are based on them. The first graph is the famous “hockey stick” created by Michael Mann. Many climate activists use it as the main argument on which their position is based, while the other graph, created by Christian Schönwiese, shows the process of climate change from the point of view of many sceptic scientists. My approach would be to combine these two opposed scientific concepts inside a single frame. This will show how the climate has changed and provide hypothetical forecasts of how it will change in the future. The peculiarity of this method is that viewers can only see a small part of the image, while most of the image will be hidden under a dark layer of thermochromic material. A viewer is, thus, invited to extend the boundaries of the frame. To do this, viewers simply need to touch the masking layer with their hands. Under the influence of the heat, this layer becomes transparent and allows them to take an out-of-frame look. Once cooled, the surface becomes again dark and hides the content. In this way, I managed to create a dynamic frame, which allows viewers to change its borders. Physically changing the boundaries of the visible, viewers get an opportunity to move between frames and understand first-hand, how framing works. This method allows people to make a comparative analysis of different approaches to framing to try and better understand their own position.
Basel, 2019