On matryoshkas and meaning-making: Understanding the plasticity of climate change
Climate change means different things to different people. In this article Gail Hochachka presents an analytical framework that draws on adult developmental psychology and argues that a developmental approach can help to make sense of why there is such plasticity of meanings about climate change.
Climate change is a complex issue and means different things to different people. Numerous scholars in history, philosophy, and psychology have explored these multiple meanings, referred to as the plasticity of climate change. Building on psychological research that seeks to explain why meanings differ, I present an analytical framework that draws on adult developmental psychology to explore how meaning is constructed, and how it may become increasingly more complex across a lifespan in a nested manner, much like Russian dolls (or matryoshkas). I then use the framework to analyze photo voice data from a case study about local perspectives on climate change in El Salvador. The main finding from this analysis is that a developmental approach can help to make sense of why there is such plasticity of meanings about climate change. Using photos and their interpretations to illustrate these findings, I examine how perspective-taking capacities arrive at different meanings about climate change, based on the object of awareness, complexity of thought, and scope of time. I then discuss implications of this preliminary work on how developmental psychology could help climate change scholar-practitioners to understand and align with different climate change meanings and support local actors to translate their own meanings about climate change into locally-owned actions.