Green Media Studies

Why a Mediography?

Please note:
We recently launched a first public prototype of the Green Mediography, which is available via this link, and was unveiled at the 2021 Pathways to Sustainability conference.

On this website we only show a few pertinent cases from each category of the full mediography.

As the repercussions of the impending climate crisis become more tangible, the creation and use of ‘Green Media’ formats that contribute to climate communication, environmental literacy and ecological citizenship/identities, is rapidly expanding both as a media phenomenon and research area, making it increasingly difficult to navigate.

To address this, we have received funding from the strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability to create an annotated mediography, i.e. an online repository of 'green media' See e.g. Parham, John. 2016. Green Media and Popular Culture, An Introduction. London & New York: Palgrave Macmillan. examples used in processes of environmental communication, epistemic eco-practices See e.g. Kane, Carolyn. 2018. “The Toxic Sublime: Landscape Photography and Data Visualization.” Theory, Culture & Society 35 (3): 121–47 on the transition from landscape photography to data visualization as a means of ‘seeing’ nature. and climate action/activism.

The goals of this project are to…

  • facilitate a media-comparative perspective on the epistemic and societal functions as well as distinct advantages and disadvantages of ‘green media’, including well-studied phenomena like eco-cinema and climate fiction literature, but also more recent phenomena like eco-theatre or sustainability apps.
  • provide a ‘toolkit’ for academic and societal partners to understand how ‘green media’, individually and in combinations, can support their sustainability-oriented (research) activities, but also how these media act as 'epistemic objects' See e.g. Khazraee, Emad, and Susan Gasson. 2015. 'Epistemic Objects and Embeddedness: Knowledge Construction and Narratives in Research Networks of Practice.' Information Society 31 (2): 139–59. that inform the creation, interpretation and exchange of knowledge and shared concepts in the process.

The core deliverable will be the online repository itself to archive, annotate and compare different media used for environmental purposes. The taxonomies and interpretive criteria for the content are derived from research that we’ve been conducting since starting the Green Media course in 2019 but also include existing criteria like genre characteristics or the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agreed upon by the United Nations.

Furthermore, we are creating a series of small games based on the underlying dataset, utilizing a recently developed methodological framework See Werning, Stefan. 2020. 'Making Data Playable – Exploring the Impact of Playfulness and Game Co-Creation on Creative Data Literacy.' Journal of Media Literacy Education 12 (3): 88–101 at to facilitate active and critical engagement with the material, and to turn the mediography into a platform for discussion, collaboration and learning rather than a static archive.

Pathways to Sustainability combines important research to promote political, economic and societal action that facilitates more resilient communities and a more reflective human-nature relationship. For societies to act upon these visions for the future, it is vital to overcome our current 'crisis of the imagination' See Bendor, Roy. 2018. Interactive Media for Sustainability. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 132, i.e. to encourage diverse audiences to participate through information (cognitive level) and empowerment (affective level).
In that regard, the media perform a vital but still insufficiently understood function. In fact, popular and independent media directly address the themes of all five hubs with the strategic theme, including e.g. …
… Netflix documentaries like Theater of Life (2016) or Rotten (2018) [Future Food],
… apps like Too Good to Go that support/transform existing industries [Sustainable Industry],
… commercial city-building video games like Cities: Skylines, specifically the 2017 expansion Green Cities, but also urban ecogames like Utrecht 2040, initiated by co-applicant Dr. Karin Rebel [Transforming Cities],
Deltas of the World (2018) and other movies about life along rivers [Water, Climate and Future Deltas], and
… eco theatre and art See e.g. Curtis, David J., Nick Reid, and Guy Ballard. 2012. “Communicating Ecology through Art: What Scientists Think.” Ecology and Society 17 (2). but also educational board games like In the Loop [Towards a Circular Economy and Society].

However, existing knowledge of these diverse and interconnected media forms is usually anecdotal, and does not acknowledge how they complement each other and what their epistemic implications are, i.e. how they frame the way we think about human-nature relationships and processes of environmental communication. Motifs and rhetoric from literary and cinematic environmental science fiction are continuously picked up and developed further by new media genres, which, in turn, feed back into climate fiction and environmental cinema, thereby queering existing and outlining much-needed new eco-narratives See e.g. Donly, Corinne. 2017. 'Toward the Eco-Narrative: Rethinking the Role of Conflict in Storytelling.' Humanities 6 (2). As an example, consider e.g. emerging subgenres like Ecopunk; see As the Liternatuur project at Utrecht University, which studies literary response to the climate crisis in the Netherlands, shows, moving past established narrative tropes constitutes an important step towards fostering ‘climate literacy’ [“klimaatgeletterdheid“ ]. Finally, media are also a key component of contemporary movements like Solarpunk, i.e. instrumental in understanding and working with these groups to expand our imaginary of sustainable futures.

The mediography will constitute a valuable tool to share this media studies perspective within and beyond the strategic theme. We have started and will continue to proactively contact researchers of Pathways to see how our mediography can help them with their research and teaching activities.
Moreover, the taxonomy we develop also helps understand and expand the scope of ‘green media’ phenomena. Currently, prominent examples like the BBC nature documentaries monopolize attention and consequently narrow our imaginary of what ‘green media’ can accomplish; through the mediography and underlying taxonomic work, we can foster awareness of current marginalized (green) media formats like activism (e.g. Earth Hour), game modifications (eco mods), social media (Instagram, Tik-Tok) or eco memes, which afford environmental communication strategies and reaching audiences that more mainstream media are ill-equipped for.

The primary deliverable will be the online mediography, built on top of WordPress by combining existing and customized plugins, to collect and document particularly relevant examples from different ‘green media’ formats, including film, VR, games, music or apps. Examples of conceptually related online archives include e.g. the environmental games section of the Games for Change website or the database of the MIT Open Documentary Lab.

The mediography comprises metadata, images and video material, and will allow for filtering the dataset according to different types of tags like genre, narrative motifs, rhetorical technique and more. It will be built on top of open-source software with an emphasis on long-term compatibility and exportability. To maintain an overview of the rapidly growing field, we will implement visualization capabilities, which provide valuable insights e.g. as to how genres evolve over time or which rhetorical strategies are common in a specific region or culture.

A cornerstone of the mediography will be intelligent recommendation functionality to facilitate a media-comparative perspective on environmental communication. For instance, starting with an environmental film, the user can discover other media sharing similar themes or rhetorical devices. This will help us and our research partners to develop and refine a shared vocabulary to analyze intermediality in environmental communication .
The inclusion of annotation features will be instrumental in turning the mediography from a static archive into a platform for active collaboration. For example, it allows affiliated researchers to add layers of interpretation, supplementary literature, personal experiences with the respective case as well as related examples from their own domains. To further stimulate active but also critical engagement with the material – as well as political issues like canonization and representivity – we will create a series of small (digital and analogue) games using accessible tools like Nandeck, Squib and Tabletop Simulator for use in classroom and outreach activities. These will highlight different subsets of the entire dataset, familiarize players – e.g. affiliated researchers, students or a broader public – with the material, but also enable them to playfully discover creative connections between the different entries.

  • Dr. Tom Idema (Faculty of Humanities)
  • Prof. dr. Joost Raessens (Faculty of Humanities | main applicant)
  • Dr. Karin Rebel (Faculty of Geosciences)
  • Prof. dr. Remco Veltkamp (Faculty of Sciences)
  • Dr. Joost Vervoort (Faculty of Geosciences)
  • Dr. Stefan Werning (Faculty of Humanities | main applicant)