BORN, Dorothea: Imag(in)ing Nature in Climate Change - Nature Conceptions in Visualisations of Climate Change in Popular Science Magazines - a Comparison between Germany and the USA


Dorothea Born is University Assistant at the Department of Science and Technology Studies.



Climate change is not only an issue of scientific research but deeply intertwined with society. As scientific knowledge plays an important role for political decisions and public actions, the communication of scientific knowledge regarding climate change is of interest within the field of science and technology studies. While mass media have been studied to a wider extend, little prominence has been given to communication strategies embedded in popular science magazines. Aiming at an interested and qualified public, these magazines are located at the threshold between the scientific community and the mass media, thus constituting a hybrid-space of science communication.

Images and visualisations provide especially powerful tools in climate change communication since they address emotions unmediated by verbal arguments, providing a space for highly effective visual communication strategies. In my thesis I focus on the conceptions of nature conveyed within images and visualisations in climate change communication. Such conceptions of ‘nature’ always refer to imaginations about how nature and culture are and should be related to each other, and they constitute specific beliefs about how politics or ‘the public’ should relate towards the environment. Nature conceptions in visual communication strategies are therefore of importance in research on climate change communication.

Since communication strategies are always embedded in a specific political and cultural environment, I will compare articles published in a German and an American popular science magazine. For my PhD-project, I will investigate the visual communication strategies of GEO and National Geographic regarding (visual) discourses on climate change, and more specifically the conceptions of nature. Linking the findings back to their context of production, I will analyse and reflect upon convergences and differences between the politics of pictures and the political cultures of Germany and the USA that pursue markedly differing politics in regard to climate change.

While writing my master thesis in biology about climate change in the Arctic, I became aware that the object of my scientific research was in fact a hybrid-object, its boundaries with politics and society being continuously blurred. This drew my interest to studying the interconnectedness between science and society. My personal background thus enables me to cast an interdisciplinary glance on the issue.