Southern Alberta Discourses

Identifying dominant and minority discourses on energy production in Southern Alberta through Q methodology: Enhancing insights through supplementary interviews

Thesis: Dairon, M.R. 2015. Exploring southern Alberta energy discourses and web-based survey data quality issues: An application of Q-methodology. Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta.

Energy landscapes are continuously changing and evolving as technology advances and concerns such as climate disruption and energy security become of greater interest. The changes that occur within energy landscapes often stimulate responses within society that are captured within distinctive perspectives or discourses on energy projection. Energy related discourses and their associated points of view are as diverse as the experiences that act to shape and define them.

Drawing on Charles Taylor’s concept of social imaginaries and Robert Entman’s interpretation of frames, this study identifies dominant and minority energy related discourses in order to further our understanding of the experiences and views that surround energy development within Alberta.

For this study, Q-Methodology is utilized to identify and explore the various discourses and their nuance differences/similarities. In efforts to enrich and build upon the analysis of identified minority discourse, this study conducted follow-up semi-structured interviews to explore the life experiences and interactions with energy development that acted to shape the foundation of these discourses.

The selection of Cochrane and Pincher Creek allowed for the views and preferences associated with wind, hydraulic fracking and other forms of energy development to be captured. Within this analysis two dominant discourses emerged, ‘Climate Concern’, and ‘Energy and Prosperity’; along with two minority discourses, ‘Sustainability for the Sake of Sustainability’ and ‘The Treadmill of Energy Production’ that are thought to be less prevalent within the public sphere.

The identification and exploration of the minority discourses not only contributes to a growing literature on diverse and locally specific energy discourses in North America, but also demonstrates the benefit of supplementary qualitative inquires to further the nuanced analysis of discourses identified through Q-methodology. Such benefits are shown in the examination of the views and life experiences that laid the foundations of the minority discourses identified within this study.

Results also demonstrate that despite the differences between discourses, there are often commonalities that string them together. By furthering our understanding of energy related discourses, findings such as those identified in this study can deepen the conversations surrounding energy development by increasing our understanding of the diversity and potential similarities of these discourses. Such findings can assist those participating in energy conversations by illuminating the diversity and complexity of views that exist but also by advancing conversations through the identification of commonalities between potentially conflicting views.