Call for Proposals: CDQ Special Issue on Environmental Communication in the Age of UnReason

Call for Proposals
Environmental Communication in the Age of UnReason: new research, roles, and the technical communicator’s responsibilities in shaping environmental discourse.

Guest Editor: Sarah Beth Hopton, Appalachian State University

Communication Design Quarterly (CDQ), the peer reviewed publication of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)’s Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (SIGDOC), is soliciting article proposals for an upcoming special issue that will examine communication design practices related to environmental communication and activism.

Special Issue Description

According to a preponderance of scientists, human emissions of greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming. Yet, 56% of Republican congressional lawmakers deny the science; some even claiming global warming is a scientific hoax. Disbelief and inaction prevail even as land ice melts, threatening to subsume coastal communities from Florida to Virginia; even as the oceans have acidified by 30 percent; even as the magnificent glaciers in the Rockies and Alaska disappear; even as storms like Hurricane Harvey become more intense and more frequent.

Many global government and business organizations are clear that the need to communicate the complexity and urgency of scientific, technical and environmental information and to advocate ethical, immediate solutions to environment-related problems has never been more urgent, or more difficult.

The problem facing communicators working on issues of environmental communication seems to be two fold: how best to build on the degree of scientific consensus that exists, and how best to encourage governments, businesses, and individuals to act on existing knowledge. Technical communicators are well positioned to meet these “wicked” communication challenges. This special issue takes up these problems and solutions.

Though technical communicators have been tackling such problems since the late 1960s, when the public sphere emerged as the discursive space in which competing voices engaged in concern and problem solving over the environment, the difficulty of our work—and the consequences of failure— has been compounded by the realities of living in a post-fact age. In the 26 years that followed the 1997 special winter issue by Bill Karis and Jimmie Killingsworth,Environmental Rhetoric, which demonstrated the intimate, if imprecise, connection between our field and environmental communication, much has changed. Science is increasingly contested; expertise questioned; and civic discourse shaped by corporate interest. 

Though many scholars have extended and updated discussions about the technical communicator’s role, research and responsibilities in shaping environmental discourse including Coppola and Karis’s Technical Communication, Deliberative Rhetoric and Environmental Discourse: Connections and Directions(2000); Carolyn Rude’s The Discourse of Public Policy (2000); Johnson-Sheehand and Stewart’s Science and Nature Writing, (2003); Carpenter and Dubinsky’sCivic Engagement (year); Gross and Gurak’s The State of Rhetoric of Science and Technology (2005); Craig Waddell’s Landmark Essays on Rhetoric and the Environment(2007); and Gibson’s Science and Public Policy  (2009), there is a certain urgency and hunger for application and communicative action beyond the scope or aim of such these works.

This call asks respondents to apply existing theories and to posit new approaches to solve or answer any of the following or related problems or questions:

  • Who is participating in current conversations about the environment and environmental crisis (Dakota Pipeline, Mountaintop Removal, Flint Michigan Water Crisis) and what is considered compelling and productive in the post-fact age?
  • Why are certain voices privileged and others marginalized in the post-fact age and what does new research show about how lay publics have and now value or dismiss expertise (Collins & Evans, 2016)?
  • What facets of the conversation around environmental issues are now discussed and where do these discussions take place? How might shifts in space and place affect our pedagogy and practice?
  • How has Trump’s silencing of the EPA and the National Parks Service affect technical communicators’ ability to shape discourse and affect change around such issues?
  • What are the most effective discursive strategies for overcoming denialism and disbelief? How might we update theories of stakeholder engagement in the post-fact age and how do these strategies affect the genre conventions of technical documents?
  • What impact will the appointment of Scott Pruitt have on communications with children and future citizens of the country’s most environmentally affected areas (Flint, MI, Newtok, AK, Miami, FL) and what ethical responsibilities do technical communicators have to resist?
  • Outside the US, how will radically changing political landscapes and boundaries, divisions, fragmentation and polarization affect intercultural environmental communication and design?
  • How and in what ways has failed discourse shaped the anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism of movements like “Rolling Coal” and what visual or verbal strategies work best to counter the negative effects of decades of “greenwashing?”
  • How can technical communicators co-opt the discursive success of other movements and should we? What role does feminism and intersectionality have in such success?
  • What are the opportunities for advocacy and change offered by new theories of rhetoric of science and risk? What are the limitations associated with their contexts, theories and practices?
  • What role does design and usability play in the acceptance or rejection of climate science?
  • How has the nonhuman nature of our technological humanity changed discourse and advocacy around the environment?
  • What interdisciplinary methodologies might be borrow to better study the nature of changing values, attitudes, and beliefs or mobilize action around environmental issues?

Theoretical examination of such topics is important, and our field owes a debt to the scholars who highlighted the need for communicative interventions about the environment, but it but it is increasingly important to move from abstraction to application. Scholars, practitioners, and teachers working on problems of environmental communication, design, and usability who write in a style that is broadly accessible to an interdisciplinary audience are strongly encouraged to answer this call.

Submission Guidelines

Send 250-300 word proposals by November 1, 2017 to Sarah Beth Hopton (

 All proposals should include:

  • The submitters name, affiliation, and email address
  • A provisional, descriptive title for the proposed article
  • A summary of the topic/focus of the proposed article
  • An explanation of how the proposed topic/focus connects to the theme of the issue
  • An overview of the structure/organization of the proposed article (i.e. how the author will address the topic within the context of the proposed article)

Estimated Production Schedule

November 1, 2017 – Proposals Due

December 1, 2017 – Decision on proposals sent to submitters

April 1, 2018 – Initial Manuscripts Due

First Issue of 2019 – Publication


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