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Varekamp, Linda, 2021. Symbolic coping in Canada’s coal phaseout : applying social representations dynamics to communities in transition. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Urban and Rural Development



The Canadian federal government has introduced policy to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, as part of its climate change mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement. The policy plan, positioned as a just transition, includes funding and measures to help workers and communities manage economic difficulties arising from the coal phaseout. Sustainability transitions, however, are rarely a purely economic process, as changes in demographics, values, norms and meanings may also ensue. Understanding this process as one of symbolic coping, wherein coal communities must socially come to terms with the phaseout and the resulting threat to their identities, adds another dimension to the just transition concept.

This study aimed to better understand the social-psychological processes of sense-making in sustainability transitions, by investigating how coal communities are understanding and coping with the coal phaseout, and how social representations of the coal industry are transforming as a result. Social representations theory (SRT) was the main conceptual framework used, as it explores group-level common-sense understandings, which can be useful in analyzing processes of disruption or transition. Through qualitative case study research in two coal producing communities in Saskatchewan, one of four Canadian provinces affected by the coal phaseout, I explored the dynamics of the social representation of the local coal industry. Using the central core approach to SRT, I identified a core element based in shared history, stability and prosperity, which seemed to provide a foundation for making sense of the coal phaseout policy. From this foundation, I found two models of social representation transformation, resisting and progressive, implicating a split in the social representation of community life after coal. With this theoretical application, I explored social implications of the Canadian coal phaseout, illustrated a model of social representation transformation, and demonstrated a framework that can be applied to transition research in other contexts. I also discussed potential governance implications for designing just transition policies.

Main title:Symbolic coping in Canada’s coal phaseout
Subtitle:applying social representations dynamics to communities in transition
Authors:Varekamp, Linda
Supervisor:Fischer, Anke
Examiner:Bergeå, Hanna
Volume/Sequential designation:UNSPECIFIED
Year of Publication:2021
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:NM026 Environmental communication and management - Master's programme
Supervising department:(NL, NJ) > Dept. of Urban and Rural Development
(LTJ, LTV) > Dept. of Urban and Rural Development
Keywords:just transition, resistance, transformation, social representations theory, structural approach, central core
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Nature conservation and land resources
Life sciences
Deposited On:22 Jun 2021 06:36
Metadata Last Modified:23 Jun 2021 01:03

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