Defining a visual metonym: A hauntological study of polar bear imagery in climate communication

A VERY intellectual story below about images of polar bears. The Green/Left for a long time claimed that the bears were dying out so the bears became a symbol of global warming. Now, however, they are mostly a symbol of climate fraud. Why? The bears are NOT dying out. They are increasing in overall numbers, if anything. Pesky!


From television news bulletins, newspapers and magazines, documentaries and films, social media memes and cartooning, to protest and art – even to the images that spontaneously come into our minds – polar bears are now ubiquitously associated with climate change. Indeed, polar bear visuals now often mean nothing but climate change. Why do polar bear images, as a particular type of climate change imagery, continue to thrive and to circulate – and indeed, to haunt – our imaginings of climate change? This paper seeks to understand the tangled social, cultural, political, and scientific histories of polar bear visuals through defining a new concept, a ‘visual metonym’. This concept is worked through using a longitudinal analysis of visual evidence arising from political, social, scientific, and cultural domains and using a hauntological approach that is sensitive to the spectre-like nature of polar bear imagery. This reveals three periods in which the work that polar bear visuals has undertaken has changed: polar bear (1990s–mid-2000s), political bear (mid-2000s), and climate bear (mid-2000s onwards). By the time of the ‘climate bear’ period, polar bear images had become entrenched and irreducible from (i.e., they haunt) climate change. As polar bear images came to stand in for much wider debates – of climate scepticism and political (in)action – they became a visual metonym. The paper concludes by presenting the visual metonym concept as a way to explore and understand how particular image types gain power, agency, and meaning and how they come to act as signalling devices representing complex engagements with contemporary issues. The visual metonym concept can be used to understand, interrogate, and critique naturalised and pervasive issue-led imagery.


No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments containing Chinese characters will not be published as I do not understand them