Probing Narrative Cognition Theory: A Semantic Analysis of Multi-level Hydraulic Fracturing Policy Narratives in Arkansas
23 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 11, 2020
Contentious policy debates over the use of hydraulic fracturing technologies in the U.S. have produced inconsistent policies (John Kester and Moyer 2015; Zirogiannis et al. 2016). These debates hold serious implications across a variety of policy domains including energy, environment, economy, and national security. Competing policy narratives often oversimplify the issue by positioning hydraulic fracturing as either a threat to the environment or as an opportunity to realize an economic gain, leaving the issue vulnerable to disinformation campaigns (Old Tactics, New Tools: A Review of Russia’s Soft Cyber Influence Operations. 2017; U.S. House of Representatives 2018) which continue to be employed by outside interests in efforts to destabilize the U.S. energy market (U.S. House of Representatives 2018).
According to the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), meso-level narratives are utilized by competing advocacy coalitions within an adversarial policy subsystem (McBeth et al. 2007; Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth 2011). Meso-level policy narratives are strategically employed to persuade others to adopt one policy perspective over another. In Colorado, for instance, narratives on hydraulic fracturing emphasized either the associated economic benefits or the potential risks posed to human health and the environment (Heikkila et al. 2014). This divergence of narrative surely fails to support compromise and holds the potential to sustain related policy conflict (Weible and Heikkila 2017). The different views advanced by such narratives are likely to be evaluated, processed, and consumed by diverse individual policy actors, particularly those who are interested in the issue and willing to engage in the debate. While the NPF identifies narrative cognition as the process of extracting meaningful elements from the narrative to think about the policy issue at the micro-level, this concept has rarely been investigated in a systemic manner (but see Jones and Song 2014; Jorgensen, Song, and Jones 2018; Zanocco, Song, and Jones 2018). The controversial nature of the hydraulic fracturing policy debate provides a unique opportunity to further examine this concept of narrative cognition. As such, this chapter probes narrative cognition theory within the context of the hydraulic fracturing (HF) debate in Arkansas by comparing meso-level HF narratives to micro-level communications and examining what factors influence the process. While meso-level HF narratives are certainly accessible to both elite policy actors and the general public, this study narrows its focus to local policy elites residing in the state.
Keywords: Narrative Policy Framework, Cultural Theory, Policy Elites, Hydraulic Fracturing
JEL Classification: Z18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation