‘Fractious realities’: a critical re-assemblage of hybrid-discourses mobilised in the emergence of UK shale gas development

Knight, William (2018) ‘Fractious realities’: a critical re-assemblage of hybrid-discourses mobilised in the emergence of UK shale gas development. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The debates and discussions (discourses) surrounding shale gas in the United Kingdom (UK) far outstrip any physical development of the potential energy source. The UK sits on a significant potential resource of 1329tcf. (Andrews, 2013) of shale gas, yet there are increasingly polarised positions on whether this resource should be developed. On the one hand, proponents of its development point to the United States (US) and the significant economic impact the rapid expansion of shale gas development has had. On the other, concerns are raised about the purported negative environmental impacts shale gas development may have, particularly questions about its climatic impact and the contamination of water.

The polarisation of UK shale gas discourses made it impossible to conceive that proponents of each ‘side’ were not viewing the same version of shale gas; the differences were simply too great. An alternative research framework is therefore developed within this thesis. An approach which does not impose pre-emptive boundaries on the discourses, with the binary understandings of ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ and the thematic categorisation of content being done away with and tossed onto the bonfire. The approach draws on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) which treats shale gas discourses as actor-networks within which the content of discourse, such as water contamination, are considered actors. These actor-networks are traced to explore the form and formation of UK shale gas discourses, and ultimately why some discourses become salient, whilst others fail. Given the disconnect between different positions on shale gas, Mol’s (1999 & 2002) work on multiple realities was incorporated to argue that rather than there being multiple perspectives on shale gas, there are rather “more than one, less than many” (Mol, 2002) versions, or realities, of shale gas.

This research draws on 83 semi-structured interviews with a variety of stakeholders interested in the emergence of UK shale gas and were conducted between 2013 and 2014. By following these stakeholders as they lay out their realities of shale gas through actor-networks of discourses, this research explores which actors stakeholders mobilise within their discourses, and how they are performed through the alignment and translation of the actors to produce effect – shale gas discourses. This, enabled a nuanced insight into UK shale gas discourses from those mobilising them. In doing so, this research highlighted several key aspects of UK shale gas discourses. First and foremost was the dominance of water discourses. This was due to water contamination as a result of shale gas development being seen as a foregone conclusion by stakeholders, as a result of it becoming a punctualised actor, whereby water contamination was reduced to end effect. The explanations of how or why it may occur being successfully masked within the actor-networks. The research also highlighted the reason for this dominance being in no small part to the spatial aspects of the US experience of shale gas development being imported without spatial-context to the UK. The way stakeholders performed UK shale gas discourses was also a significant finding, specifically that discourses were a system of alliances with multiple actors mobilised in support of a broader discourse, as opposed to a structured thematic consideration of the issues. Finally, the incorporation of multiple realities led to the conclusion that the negativity of shale gas has become a ‘matter of fact’, with a dominant more-negative reality transcending all others to a lesser or greater-degree and influencing discourses of shale gas with negative translations.

Overall, this research speaks to the small but growing literature on UK shale gas discourses. The development and employment of an alternative research framework based on ANT and multiple realities may have wider applications both for exploring UK shale gas discourses in greater depth, but also for considering other controversies.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: O'Hara, Sarah
Humphrey, Mathew
Stephenson, Mike
Keywords: Shale gas; actor-network theory; multiple realities; fracking; public understanding of science; discourses
Subjects: T Technology > TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 53629
Depositing User: Knight, William
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2018 04:40
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2019 08:17
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/53629

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