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Bill McKibben’s Influence on U.S. Climate Change Discourse: Shifting Field-level Debates Through Radical Flank Effects

Organizations & Environment, Forthcoming

Ross School of Business Paper No. 1364

46 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017 Last revised: 27 Sep 2017

Todd Schifeling

Temple University

Andrew John Hoffman

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Date Written: September 2017

Abstract

This paper examines the influence of radical flank actors in shifting field-level debates by increasing the legitimacy of pre-existing but peripheral issues. Using network text analysis, we apply this conceptual model to the climate change debate in the U.S. and the efforts of Bill McKibben and 350.org to pressure major universities to “divest” their fossil fuel assets. What we find is that, as these new actors and issue entered the debate, liberal policy ideas (such as a carbon tax), which had previously been marginalized in the U.S. debate, gained increased attention and legitimacy while the divestment effort itself gained limited traction. This result expands theory on indirect pathways to institutional change through a discursive radical flank mechanism, and suggests that the actual influence of Bill McKibben on the U.S. climate debate goes beyond the precise number of schools that divest to include a shift in the social and political discourse.

Keywords: Radical flank effects, institutional change, climate change, fossil fuel divestment

Suggested Citation

Schifeling, Todd and Hoffman, Andrew John, Bill McKibben’s Influence on U.S. Climate Change Discourse: Shifting Field-level Debates Through Radical Flank Effects (September 2017). Organizations & Environment, Forthcoming; Ross School of Business Paper No. 1364. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2957590

Todd Schifeling (Contact Author)

Temple University ( email )

Fox School of Business and Management
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Andrew John Hoffman

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan Street, R4390
Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
United States
734.763.9455 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.andrewhoffman.net/

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