Rhetorical Analysis of Arguments Made in the Climate Change Debate: Argument Families and Social Network LInks as Potential Bases for Agreement

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The issue of climate change brings together some of the most important sociological issues of the age, including global governance, the role of industrialization and capitalism in degrading the environment, the relationship between humans and non-human nature, and the inequality of nations. However, it is an open question whether societies and countries of the world can come to agreement about the meaning of climate change and actions (or no action) that should be taken to address it. To avoid privileging one or another of the issue's aspects, this study used a discursive and rhetorical approach to include all the arguments made in the debate on an equal footing. First, 100 documents that make arguments about climate change were analyzed to characterize the arguments made and to distinguish four rhetorical elements: the personal and organizational sources of authority for the rhetor, the type(s) of evidence used for the claims made, the worldview(s) expressed, and the actions proposed. This analysis provided the basis for categorizing the documents into "families," coherent arguments made about the climate change issue; and performing a social network analysis to discern linkages formed by the argument families and rhetorical elements that might be the basis for coming to agreement about climate change issues. The study found coherence within families as well as multiple links across families, indicating that rhetors in the climate change debate form a dense network of ties that could be used to build agreement.