Discussion post for Environment in media and society

I’m working on a Environmental Science question and need guidance to help me study.

Dear Students,

Please read through this description thoroughly before trying the assignment! There’s not a huge amount to write but the context and setup are important!

For this week’s project step we will begin digging into the theoretical tool sets you can use to examine mass media to gain a better understanding of otherwise difficult to perceive ideas and dynamics taking place across society. When it comes to social science and media studies, these theoretical perspectives represent a starting point for deciphering the world using creativity and the data available to us. They also represent points of shared understanding through which we can engage with others, serving as a foundation for communicating our insights and findings.

The basic idea of applying theory to better understand the world works like this:

-> A theory is a general idea for trying to explain observations in the world. Then we test it across many examples to see if it holds up. If it holds up and keeps holding up then we can use it as a “lens” for looking at the world to make new claims about what’s going on. Think of it like a filter or net for finding new ideas in what we see. The difference between a theory and an example is a theory is general while an example is case specific.

-> Data is a set of information collected about a specific topic question. When we ask a question in social science one of the challenges is gathering the right data and enough of it to answer that question. This is challenging! How to know when you have enough data? How do you go out into the world and collect this information well and with minimal bias? These are questions both scientists and reporters ask all the time. One of the keys is to acknowledge the limitations of your data and only make claims within reason based on what you have available.

-> Analysis is the result of using theory to examine data with a topic or question in mind. For example, a popular theory in the social justice world is called critical race theory, which claims that powerful political, cultural and economic forces create unequal access to social and material benefits along lines of race, culture, and national origin. As a theory, this is a general idea, one that has been explored in many contexts.

This theory is also the foundation of an idea called environmental racism, used to describe situations where lower income and often non-white groups bear a disproportionate burden of pollution or degradation, such as in the Flint Michigan water crisis (Links to an external site.). This link to a New York Times article (partial summary vid here) uses the idea of environmental racism to analyze, explain and surface a hidden dynamic in this awful situation, as Flint is home to lower income and African American populations. The reporters used a pubic release of the governor’s emails as data to show that race was not being acknowledged as a possible factor in this situation, begging the question – would the it be so bad if this were taking place is a wealthy white community?

This is an example of how a theory, used alongside data, can lead to analysis which shows us more than meets the eye on the surface – and can help to inform how we might change the world for the better.

As shown here, these tools can help us compose media campaigns and popular communications as well as social science! Whereas for school and academic writing we cite these ideas directly, in a scientific methods section for example, in popular media writing and campaigning we can use these points of awareness to communicate with diverse audiences – influencing and informing others more like a magician who never reveals their tricks.

Let’s get started!

How to Complete the Assignment

1. Open the same Google document you started and submitted last week. If you cannot find the link peek your submission in last week’s project step. Make sure its sharing settings are set to ‘Anyone with the link can Edit’. You may see comments I’ve made to last week’s submission. Please view them, leave them unchanged, and feel free to respond to them if you’d like!

2. Above the submission from week 1, press enter/return a few times so that your new submission appears above the last one. On a fresh line add this week’s assignment title, “Week 2 – Building Our Theoretical Toolkit – Linking Data and Analysis”.

3. Below that, Complete the assignment by following these steps and prompts:

a. In this assignment you will use a bit of theory to explore related though contradictory perspectives in this week’s case study – to practice linking theory and data towards an original analysis around an important topic in environment, media and society.

The topic question you’ll be considering is

What role does mass media play in increasing polarization (people getting further and further away from agreement and action) around climate change, and how might mass media be used to reduce this polarization?

Length Guideline for Submission: 3+ solid paragraphs based on this this topic and the guidelines below (remember, a paragraph is more than just 3+ sentences, it’s a fully framed and complete idea!).

b. First, make sure you’ve read through the How Culture Shapes and Intro to Critical Media Studies chapters, as well as the Crash Course Media Literacy videos assigned so far.

Hint: A good way to get a sense of a chapter is to look for headings, words in bold and italics, peeking first sentences and summary paragraphs, scanning with your eyes for interesting items worth digging into, and reading intro and conclusion sections.

c. Then, consider the topic question and sources, in context of the opening discussion around the use of theory, data, and analysis – here’s the setup:

Topic – As you playfully wrote about for this week’s forum assignment, the topic question for this week’s project step is – What role does mass media play in increasing polarization around climate change, and how might mass media be used to reduce this polarization?

Theory – In the How Culture Shapes chapters, Hoffman lays out some powerful theoretical tools. These include “the Six Americas”, “Forms of Distrust”, “Bounded Rationality”, “Tools for Bridging the Schism”, “Cognitive Filters”, among others to choose from. The Intro to Critical Media and Crash Course items present several theoretical tools as well. Use these when thinking about the “data” and “topic”!

Data – The “Sad Polar Bear” case study from this week’s module as well as the “Media Perspectives” case items from last week. Use these sources alongside the topic question and theories to make your points.

Analysis – That’s what you’ll be exploring and writing up! See below for details…

d. How to do the Analysis –

Skim through the case materials and chapters again. As you do so, think about how the Theories might inform your understanding of the case study Data to help you convey new ideas around the Topic – the result being an Analysis!

To help you do so, ask yourself… How can these theories help to explain the communication problems we’re seeing across the case examples? What might our insights into the case (using these theories) tell us about how we might solve these problems? What evidence from the data can I use to support and inform my ideas and claims?

This is how analysis can help us learn. Be creative! Take risks! Try something new! Write about it!

Hint: I suggest you pick a few theories that really resonate with you and try combining them through your observations and analysis to improve overall effectiveness.

e. Framing your 3+ paragraphs (at least 5-6 sentences) for submission –

Think about this as a mini-mini-essay. Have an opening statement about your observations and what you plan to say, such as a topic sentence or two. Try to incorporate the theories, data sources, and your own fresh ideas and insights in your write-up. Try to combine theory and data to discover points to make. State some implications of your observations. Make an original statement about what you think your observations mean and what their implications for society might be. Cite your sources with title and page (and link if you draw on an external source) by adding them as footnotes to your Google doc (Links to an external site.).

Hint: It will be easier to do well if you try making a few points clearly rather than trying to touch on everything and being too general.

f. Lastly! Please offer a sentence or two about what was new, interesting, or challenging about this assignment for you. That will help me to give you the best feedback possible!

5. When you’re ready to submit the assignment, copy your Google document link into the submission box for this assignment and click ‘Submit’.


As a closing note, do not worry too much about how skillful you are in applying these analytical tools to your work just yet. This is a starting point for the deeper work you are just beginning to explore in our class. Simply do your best!

It will help a lot if you pick an angle that is inherently interesting to you. This will make your submission more enjoyable to create. There is no right answer here. I’m more interested in your making an effort to use these tools to come up with your own ideas – not my ideas spoken back to me. Doing so now will help to make your projects much easier and more enjoyable in the last few weeks of class. Hopefully the assignment will help you gain valuable insights into this important topic of polarization in the media as well!

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.