The End of Days Deferred: Imperative Agency, Collective Responsibility, and Corporate Communication

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2022 Number 107 & 108

The End of Days Deferred: Imperative Agency, Collective Responsibility, and Corporate Communication
Stuart Price pages 101-117
DOI: 10.3898/NewF:107-8.06.2022


This article analyses the discursive configuration of a widespread assumption – that the event of climate emergency should be met with some form of concerted collective action. Beginning with references to the concept of ‘greenwashing’, it goes on to note the temporal framing of climate disaster and the imperative agency advocated in the types of address used by news organisations, climate scientists and bodies (like the United Nations) devoted to global governance. Standard media practices, which serve a vital function in circulating meaning, are also discussed, on the basis that, while they seem to advocate timely intervention, they also disassociate environmental awareness from the radical measures needed to mitigate disaster, displaying an ambiguous or (in some cases) hostile attitude to the activist forces that could drive recuperative transformations in climate policy.

I argue that effective mitigation is deferred for three interrelated reasons: first, because of the recurrent emphasis placed on momentous (future) tipping points, which obscures a more insidious and rapid deterioration in the present; second, the preeminent tendency of mediated climate discourse to call for ‘leadership’ on issues that a deeply compromised political establishment cannot fully address; and third, state/corporate collusion,which makes a show of balancing competing demands (economic growth and zero emissions, for example), but is actually committed to a criminal model of industrial enterprise. Taken together, these factors – combined with the neglect of subaltern and alternative voices and the instinctive journalistic deference shown to elite social actors and their ‘authoritative’ utterances – help replicate the material/ideological structures of the social order and its hierarchical distinction between, on the one hand, leadership figures and, on the other, an infantilised public supposedly in need of rational direction.

The article substantiates these observations by analysing the PR strategies of the oil and gas company, bp, while distinguishing between greenwashing critiques and the approach advocated here, which recommends the delegitimisation of corporate discourse on the basis that corporations have no right to engage in what is in effect a form of political communication. The conclusion to this piece suggests that, if the span of human life on earth has indeed been circumscribed by climate breakdown, then the emergency is political, and fighting for an immediate and ‘immoderate’ form of social justice is the only way to address a crisis that elite social actors seem determined to ignore, misrepresent or monetise.

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To cite this article
Stuart Price (2022) The End of Days Deferred: Imperative Agency, Collective Responsibility, and Corporate Communication, New Formations, 2022(107 & 108 ), 101-117.

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