PhD Opportunity – Warming the heart: identifying how transforming tropical fire discourses can contribute towards more effective and equitable governance

A fully funded PhD studentship (3.5 – 4.5 yrs) – available to national and international students is now open to applications! The project will focus on understanding what framings of tropical fire are most powerful with the potential to support transformations towards more just fire governance. It combines media disourse, qualitative interviews, and behavioural science and will be based at UEA and hosted by CEMADEM in Brazil.

Project background

Tropical wildfires are increasing in extent and frequency and are projected to worsen with climate change and anthropogenic drivers. These uncontrolled, ‘feral’ fires drive enormous burdens to people and nature-yet their governance has proven a significant challenge. This difficulty is partly explained by the perceived benefits (and savings) obtained through some fire-based activities (e.g. pasture maintenance, land clearance), and the increase in factors fuelling fires (e.g. forest fragmentation and degradation). Notably, another factor potentially slowing progress towards equitable fire management is the way in which tropical fires have tended to be understood, studied and the discourses used to report them. Scientific understanding and associated discourses of tropical fire largely focus on the carbon emissions, biodiversity impacts or to a lesser extent-the economic costs incurred. Yet, despite being under-researched and under-communicated, the actual place-based, lived experience of fire and flammability is acute for forest-based communities. These groups suffer irreparable damages across all dimensions of human well-being when their territories are threatened by flammability, and degraded through fire. Crucially, empirical evidence suggests that this lived experience discourse would be more powerful across diverse sets of stakeholders to garner support towards the necessary transformation in fire governance. This project addresses this issue by:

i) evaluating the media discourses and framings of tropical fire,

ii) collecting field data to understand the lived experience of fire and flammability for forest-based communities, and

iii) using behavioural science techniques to identify what discursive framings resonate most strongly with stakeholder groups in order to support better governance.

The focus will be on two increasingly fire-prone hotspots and centres of biocultural diversity-the Brazilian Amazon and Indonesian peatlands. The student will benefit from the support of the Collaborative Partner (CEMADEM based in Brazil) including through two hosted visits to support field work. The project will involve an exciting combination of behavioural sciences (quantitative survey and lab-in-the-field experiments), media discourse analysis and qualitative field-based methods (interviews and photo story). Beyond the achievement of the PhD, the project is also expected to contribute meaningfully to mitigating the tropical fire crisis. Because of the alignment with the needs of the collaborative partner (CEMADEM), and many other institutions that are seeking to support improved fire governance, this project has great potential for impact. It is anticipated that through the direct link with CEMADEM, and the greater network beyond within which Carmenta is heavily connected – e.g. particularly through FIRE-ADAPT and the UNEP Global Peatland Initiative (GPI) – uptake of the findings in to communication campaigns around fire governance will be secured. Ultimately it is hoped that this shift in the discursive framing of fires will enable and enhance support for more equitable and effective fire governance. Thus reducing the incidence of mega-fire events and the injustices that accompany them.

Overarching aim: Understand how discourse framings can catalyse support for the behavioural and policy changes necessary to help reduce fire prevalence. 

Four specific aims guide the research:

  1. Identify and characterize the dominant, alternative, and peripheral media discourses relating to tropical fires within Brazil and Indonesia and the divergent impacts they emphasize.
  2. Understand the lived experience of forest fires across all dimensions of human well-being within two case study communities: Brazilian Amazon.
  3. Quantify how distinct framings of tropical fire impact stakeholder decision-making across scales to identify how framings might be strategically targeted to diverse stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, journalists, Large-scale farmers, NGOs) to generate support for more effective and equitable fire governance.
  4. Identify the ways in which media discourse, and fire-related discourse more broadly, may be reframed to achieve greater representation of the lived dimension in ways that constitute a more powerful catalyst for behavioural change.

Closing date: Wednesday 24th January 2024

For more information, please click here.