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Biochar in the British print news media: an analysis of promissory discourse and the creation of expectations about carbon removal

Nerlich, Brigitte, Morris, Carol, Price, Catherine, Harris, Holly (2023) Biochar in the British print news media: an analysis of promissory discourse and the creation of expectations about carbon removal. Science as Culture, . ISSN 1470-1189. (doi:10.1080/09505431.2023.2285057) (KAR id:104215)


Biochar is amongst a growing suite of approaches developed to address the climate crisis by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; yet public awareness of biochar is low. In this situation, mass-media reporting plays an important role in making an issue public and in creating expectations about its risks and benefits. In British broadsheet newspapers, a promissory, future-oriented discourse on biochar has emerged that is rhetorically configured through, for example, evaluative adjectives, verbs, hyperbole, and allusions to literary and cultural symbols that confer a sense of mystique. Biochar is promoted as an almost magical fix, based on its ability to soak up and store carbon, improve soil health, increase crops yields, and reduce pollutants. Conversely, some of the possible negative aspects of biochar are couched in the form of sarcasm and parody, while others are made invisible. This sets biochar up as a moral good that the public ought to accept, rather than opening up a public debate about its risks and benefits. Engaging in a fine-grained rhetorical analysis of the way promises about biochar are constructed expands the methodological and empirical repertoire of the sociology of expectations and, in future, can be applied to the analysis of other emerging climate change technologies, especially those relating to carbon removal.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/09505431.2023.2285057
Uncontrolled keywords: History and Philosophy of Science, Sociology and Political Science, Biomedical Engineering, Cultural Studies, Health (social science), Biotechnology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2024 14:48 UTC
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2024 10:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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