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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Journal of African Cultural Studies

For a Special Issue on

Communicating Climate Change in Africa

Abstract deadline
31 May 2023

Manuscript deadline
31 October 2023

Cover image - Journal of African Cultural Studies

Special Issue Editor(s)

Mehita Iqani, Stellenbosch University
[email protected]

Anthea Garman, Rhodes University
[email protected]

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Communicating Climate Change in Africa

This special issue aims to explore the various ways in which climate change interacts with popular culture and media discourses in Africa. Although the entire continent of Africa is suffering greatly (and will suffer further) from the effects of climate change, most African nations have contributed negligibly to the cause of the problem – except for South Africa, which is a globally significant emitter of carbon. As such, although in this special issue we are interested in broadly African cultural and communicative responses to climate change, we acknowledge that it may be important to give specific attention to South African cases.

The struggle for climate justice requires research that explores multiple aspects of culture, communication, and media in relation to the social and scientific aspects of climate change. Climate change is increasingly present in public discourse as various disasters and challenges influence daily life especially in African contexts. In African cultural studies, climate emerges in scholarship linking ecology with media (Iheka, 2021), debates about the ontological status of the Anthropocene in global south contexts (Yusoff, 2018), and work on the literary and cultural routes through which climate activism and resistance (Egya, 2016) to slow violence (Nixon, 2013) is expressed, and cultural reactions to the direct consequences of climate change, such as pandemics (Ndaka, 2023), and the links between decolonial scholarly praxis in the context of climate emergency (Roelofs, 2019). Building on these existing contributions, the time is ripe for a focus on African cultural and communications research in response to climate change.

Climate change is a scientifically proven (Oreskes, 2004; Zhou, 2021) threat that will create huge suffering and risk for all human beings (Wallace-Wells, 2019), but specifically for the poor and marginalised, of whom there are many in Africa. Furthermore, the prospect of general environmental collapse (Marques, 2020) augured by climate change will have significant consequences for African societies. Although the science of climate change is clear, cultural, and communicative responses to the realities of a warming planet are complex. Practices of overproduction and consumption are a key piece of the puzzle of neoliberal economics that produced the problem of climate; but the poor and economically marginalised justifiably aspire to better lives that feature the material objects, services and lifestyles that can be purchased through consumption, especially in African societies. How then, do we move forward towards a just transition, a better life for all, defined neither by vast social inequality nor environmental degradation in a way that recognises the legitimacy – and interconnectedness – of both problems? This is the epic challenge facing humanity at present, and this special issue seeks to engage with it by focussing on the media, communicative and cultural artefacts linked to climate change in African contexts.

Because South Africa is the most industrialised nation on the African continent, the 14th largest emitter of Greenhouse gasses in the world, and the largest emitter in Africa (UCSUSA, 2022), it must bear special critical attention in the African context when discussing climate change. South Africa is a highly unequal and materialistic society in which extreme wealth and poverty are visible side by side. The country is highly dependent on fossil-fuel generated energy, which is deeply unstable due to state mismanagement having led to a major energy supply crisis. At the same time the majority of Africans have, due to the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, been excluded from opportunities for prosperity. Youth unemployment is at all-time high, and materialism, luxury, celebrity, and individualised consumption have an increasingly strong grasp on popular culture. People aspire to own cars, shop in malls, and have all the comforts of middle-class life, as the July 2021 looting in South Africa laid bare (Iqani and Kenny, 2022). Clearly, this does not square with a sustainable society or low-carbon economy. In the media landscape, government actors dominate mainstream media discourses on climate change, minimal though that coverage is (Evans, 2019) and economically flailing newsrooms mean that there are minimal resources devoted to climate journalism (Daniels, 2020: 164; Finlay, 2012) though some citizens do blog and tweet about it (Bosch, 2012). In South Africa, climate change reporting has been framed in terms of environmental impact or political issues, with no human interest stories (Cramer, 2008) or coverage has been linked primarily to global media events (Painter, 2016). The coverage of climate change by the South African media has been limited, with peak coverage during United Nations climate conferences, and global news agencies as primary sources, as a result of a lack of specialisation on the topic within newsrooms (Tagbo, 2010). The environment beat is not prioritised in South African newsrooms, with very few science or environmental reporters, and “climate change and other environmental stories rarely make the front page, unless official or celebrity figures are attending a conference or supporting a particular event or issue” (Jones, 2012: 31). While the body of literature addressing links between the media and climate change grows, there remains a dearth of studies within the global South (Bosch, 2012). In this context, it is crucial to create a platform for more critical analysis of the cultural and communicative aspects of climate change in (South) African contexts. This is especially crucial considering the key role that South Africa, as a major African emitter and economy could potentially play in continental policy and infrastructure responses to the climate crisis. The cultural aspects to activism, policy change and regulation although understudied should not be underestimated.

Climate change issues in Africa have over the years attracted a huge interest among scholars and researchers across the world. Most economies in the African continent face a host of challenges that include poverty, poor infrastructure, poor governance, weak institutions and so on. These challenges have been considered as the greatest impediments in dealing with climate change issues. Poor populations and those located in lower-lying countries, usually in developing nations, are already experiencing substantially negative impacts of climate change (Tol, 2018  Barbier & Hochard, 2018). Due to these, the likelihood of being left vulnerable to short and long-term risks posed by climate change are high. Climate change is already affecting the growth rate of most vulnerable economies but the size of these effects “vary from negligible to substantial” (Tol, 2018: 16). For global south, specifically African, policy makers to effectively develop responses to the threat of climate change, “there needs to be structural changes in society that allow for easier access to participatory forms of communication that enable the ordinary citizens, governments and the business sector to discuss and debate issues pertaining to climate change” (Evans et al., 2018: 108).

Climate change communication has emerged as an interdisciplinary field and is of keen interest to those interested in increasing public engagement on the issue (Moser, 2016). Early climate change communication was focused primarily on raising awareness and increasing knowledge about the science of climate change; and the current challenge remains how to motivate audiences to action (Moser, 2016). The role of communication, “specifically in mass mobilisation and the climate movement has remained relatively neglected” (Moser, 2016: 8). In African contexts, people’s perceptions of climate change vary widely across communities, with most people seeing other social problems as more urgent (Mahl et al., 2020). While the research field of climate communicate tends towards understanding the efficacy of explicatory communications from scientists and activists, it is equally crucial to explore the various complexities attendance to popular culture and media coverage aspects of public discourse on climate change in African contexts.

Connecting climate change with African cultural, communication and media studies research is a key challenge facing researchers in the field at present. This special issue seeks to collect leading edge research that can offer new insights into the ways in which culture, media and climate change intersect in African contexts.

Researchers working in cultural studies, media studies, communication theory and practice, science communication, literary studies, sociology, anthropology, cultural geography, critical theory and other related and intersecting disciplines are invited to submit abstracts for papers for consideration for the special issue.

Papers can explore these, and other, topics in relation to climate communication in Africa:

  • Literary and filmic narratives on present experiences of and possible future responses to climate change in South Africa and Africa,
  • Mainstream media coverage on climate change in South Africa and Africa,
  • Organisational or institutional communication practices related to the social, political, environmental, and economic impacts of climate change in Africa,
  • Public discourse and debate on climate mitigation policies on the continent,
  • Analyses of social media content and conversations about climate change on the continent,
  • Popular culture expressions (memes, music, comedy, comics, etc) to do with climate change in Africa,
  • Fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories in relation to climate change in Africa,
  • News reporting and journalistic practices related to climate change in Africa.

Submission Instructions

To submit a paper for consideration, please send a title, 300-word abstract and 100-word biography to [email protected] by 31 May 2023. In consultation with journal editors, the guest editors will invite full papers to be submitted to them via email by 31 August 2023 and offer a round of feedback to authors within six weeks. After that prelminary review process, papers will be due for submission  through the journal ScholarOne system by 31 October 2023 and go through a double-blind peer review process handled by the Journal.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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