Defending the ‘public interest’: An assessment of competing actor representations of ‘solutions’ to growing natural resource deficiencies

  • Tracey Skillington University College Cork
Keywords: social representations, justice, identity, liberty


This paper applies a SRT framework to the study of two case studies, namely the recent

campaign of opposition to the legalization of hydraulic fracking in the State of New

York and the more ongoing debate on land leasing in Africa. In relation to both

campaigns, the analysis accounts for the arguments of a major financial institution and

industry representatives who stress the safe and value-adding dimensions of these

practices, as well as the views of opponents who refute the validity of industry’s

position and point to the unacceptable risks posed to the community, health and the

environment. In spite of a number of obvious differences between these two case

studies, not least differences arising from contrasting socio-economic and geo-political

settings, there were also some notable similarities. First, was a tendency amongst 

protesters in both cases to formulate their role as contemporaries in a historically

extended struggle for democratic justice. All perceived of themselves as guardians of

their community’s right to resist a corporate ‘invasion’ of their territories, like their

forefathers and mothers before them. A theme of colonialism was explored in both

settings through various identity and thematic anchoring devices that deliberately

evoked shared understandings and historical memories of exploitation and human

suffering. The evocation of powerful symbols of identity through visual narratives of

protest further reinforced the cultural comprehensibility of opponents’ message of

protest in both contexts.

Author Biography

Tracey Skillington, University College Cork

DR. TRACEY SKILLINGTON: is a lecturer in sociology in the School of Sociology &

Philosophy, University College Cork. Her research looks at how competing actors formulate

ideas of justice and right in relation to various climate change issues.