Plains Spoken: A Framing Analysis of Bold Nebraska's Campaign Against the Keystone XL Pipeline
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This dissertation focuses on the use of strategic communication in the context of contemporary environmental activism. It examines the case of Bold Nebraska, a grassroots advocacy group opposing the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline in the state of Nebraska. Such an analysis of activist communication informs several areas of research, including public relations theory and practice, social movement theory, and environmental communication. To understand the construction of strategic communication within such activism, this study employs a movement framing analysis, a media framing analysis, and a rhetorical analysis. A quantitative framing analysis of Bold Nebraska’s website communication against the pipeline during the five-year period of 2011 to 2015 assesses how activists craft and project strategic messages. A framing analysis of Bold Nebraska’s national media coverage during the same timeframe highlights the relationship between activist framing and mainstream news coverage. Finally, a rhetorical analysis of Bold Nebraska’s 2014 Harvest the Hope concert is provided to understand the role of rhetorical appeals in building an environmental activism metanarrative or master frame. Taken together, these three approaches provide both a more holistic means to considering environmental activism campaigns in the context of strategic communication, and fill in the gaps for understanding the interplay of social movement organizations, public relations, and persuasion. This study brings a framework of strategic advocacy framing to the realm of environmental politics, and builds upon this framework by considering the dynamic of populism in activism. It also explores the role of strategic communication in evolving a movement organization’s metanarrative as it toggles between short- and long-term goals. Finally, it identifies a civic environmental persuasion built upon the attributes of narrative, hyperlocalization, engagement, and bipartisanship in order to build broad support and influence public policy.