“We’re All Going To Die": Discourses Of Planetary Crisis And The Formation Of Collective Imaginaries

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Abbey Huber (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: https://library.appstate.edu/
Rebecca Witter

Abstract: This thesis explores discourses of planetary-scale crisis with a focus on climate change, the threat of mass extinction, and the COVID-19 pandemic. What stories are being told about planetary-scale crisis? How are these stories produced and reproduced? What are their implications? I answer these questions with an exploratory analysis of crisis storytelling in the US. The stories people tell about planetary crisis matter, because they are the groundwork, the means, and the justification for how people come to understand and interpret, experience, and respond (or not) to crisis. Drawing from diverse sources (digital media and social networks, Hollywood film, collaborative organizing tools, social media posts, memes, and academic texts), analysis is organized of these stories into three emergent themes: Emergency, Apocalypse, and Extinction. First, mobilization around the declaration “Climate Emergency” underscores the clear need for the state to take responsibility for leading the transition to a fossil fuel free economy. At the same time, there is also reason for concern over the state’s abuse of power. Second, apocalyptic entertainment shapes future imaginaries that center the “normalcy” of the white cisheteronormative man, while some modes of preparation individualize the need to do all they can to prepare. Third, diverse responses to mass extinction (from conservation to “doomerism”) ultimately protect the status quo. A significant common thread of US planetary crisis discourse is a sense of “existential exceptionalism,” a term Mary Heglar (2019) uses to describe the false novelty of collective existential threat that the environmental movement assigns to climate change. The logic of existential exceptionalism enables, first, the obfuscation of the fact that planetary crisis has been ensured and protected by systems like neoliberal globalization. Second, it accepts an orientation towards preparing for crisis that protects the status quo version of a post-crisis return to “normalcy”. Existential exceptionalism can also be characterized as a part of Joseph Masco’s “ crisis in crisis,” (2017) in which media cultures are over-saturated with crisis-talk, the political sphere is limited, and languages for collective self-improvement are abandoned. These discourses have serious implications for limiting collective imaginaries, or the ability to understand and to respond in community to planetary crisis. This is an relevant conversation to the recently emergent COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to speculations about the co-creation of a post-pandemic planet.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Huber, A. (2020). “We’re All Going To Die": Discourses Of Planetary Crisis And The Formation Of Collective Imaginaries. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2020
Planetary Crisis, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, COVID-19, Collective Imaginaries, Existential Exceptionalism, Normalcy, Storytelling, Neoliberal Globalization

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