Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication Studies


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Adam Roth


This project investigates visual representations of staged environmental protests that are produced and distributed by the environmental-activist organization Greenpeace, and broadcast through international news media. By examining eight images taken from four separate Greenpeace image campaigns, this thesis shows how these demonstrations generally, and images of them more specifically, draw attention to climate change issues through their rhetorical capacity to challenge dominant cultural values that have enabled climate-changing human activities to persist. As such, the rhetorical capacity of these images further demonstrates Kevin DeLuca’s image event theory, which suggests how visual demonstrations can be designed to attract mass media attention that then leads to public advocacy and adherence. More specifically, this thesis argues that a novel understanding of Kenneth Burke’s paired concepts of identification and disidentification can show us precisely how Greenpeace’s rhetorical agenda unfolds, how their visual representations of extreme environmental activism and advocacy challenge cultural values that support environmentally damaging industrializing practices and the subordination of nature to human progress.

To support my argument, Chapter 1 establishes a context for environmental advocacy, describing both the scientific consensus surrounding climate change issues, as well as the mixed opinions held by the public about these very same issues. Chapter 2 examines the academic literature concerning visual rhetoric and environmental advocacy, and introduces DeLuca’s image event theory and Burke’s concepts of identification and disidentification as exploratory lenses through which visual representations of extreme environmental advocacy can be studied. Chapter 3 performs a close reading and analysis of eight images from Greenpeace demonstrations, and outlines the mechanisms through which they achieve their rhetorical effects. Lastly, Chapter 4 posits that visual representations of extreme environmental activism and advocacy provide Greenpeace with a much larger mouthpiece in the world than they could ever achieve using traditional approaches to advocacy and conventional channels of public and political debate. As such, the study concludes that the visual rhetoric of environmental activists has the capacity to perform ideological critique in the process of reshaping public perceptions of climate change issues.



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