Urban resilience: Reframing climate change for action and advocacy

Trinity C Overmyer, Purdue University


This thesis argues that urban resilience is replacing sustainability as the frame through which climate change is discussed, understood, and managed. Rooted in ecological sciences, resilience is the ability of a system, be it ecology or a city, to absorb shock and use those shocks for positive transformation and renewal of the system. Where sustainability searches for equilibrium, resilience aims for the agility to face a world constantly in flux. Grounded in theories of metaphor and frame theory, this project is a frame analysis using policies that outline resilience thinking published by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Urban Land Institute, the United Nations, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that function as calls to action for the resilience mindset. This project explores how metaphors can be methods of knowledge making and the foundation for our worldviews, especially in the sciences. Framing is a particularly useful tool in technical communication at the cusp of paradigm shifts and when it is imperative to gain public understanding and support. The resilience frame has the power to shift attitudes about climate change by activating a narrative of hope and the chance for transformation. Resilience is a decidedly different frame than sustainability or any other environmental paradigm that has come before, because it addresses not only climate change, but also the socio-economic and infrastructural factors that contribute to vulnerability. This project is concerned with how the frame is operationalized through policy, meaning, how it might foster public, institutional engagement in urban and environmental policies, how it works with other frames to promote climate change action, and how technical communicators might engage with the resilience frame as connective actors in the process. More than ever, policy makers and climate scientists must help institutions understand the significance and urgency of timely climate change mitigation strategies. The thesis concludes with strategies that technical and environmental communicators should use to order to promote action and the transformational social agenda that accompanies resilience.




Johnson-Sheehan, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Climate Change|Technical Communication|Rhetoric

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