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‘They don’t quite understand the importance of what we’re doing today’: the young people’s climate strikes as subaltern activism

Bowman, Benjamin (2020) ‘They don’t quite understand the importance of what we’re doing today’: the young people’s climate strikes as subaltern activism. Sustainable Earth, 3 (1). ISSN 2520-8748

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Abstract

Youth-led movements like #FridaysforFuture and the school strikes for climate (henceforth referred to as the climate strikes) are leading calls for action on climate change worldwide. This paper reports on a thematic analysis of protest signs, and interviews with young climate strikers, at a climate strike in Manchester, UK, in 2019. This paper explores the ways in which dominant, adult-centred frameworks for conceptualizing young people’s environmental activism tend to obscure the complexities of the climate strike movement. In contrast, this study examines the complex political activism of climate strikers as a ‘subaltern group’, who take political action in a wider context of intersecting categories of oppression and marginalization – including youth as a category of marginalization – and in the historical context of environmental racism, the enduring legacies of colonialism, and global inequality during contemporary capitalism. The article develops a theoretical model for future research, based on a model of two constraining frames that limit analysis of the climate strikes in particular and young people’s environmental activism in general. This paper contributes to a step change in methods for the study of this remarkable movement in a global context.

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