Accepted paper:

The moral case for coal: the ordinary ethics of complicity amongst Australian pro-coal lobbyists


Kari Dahlgren (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Moving beyond claims of co-optation and climate denial, this paper describes the ordinary ethics (Lambek 2010) of Australian pro-coal lobbyists. It illustrates the everyday production of complicity through lobbyists' integration of ethical concerns into their projects of relational self-fashioning.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on 10 months of fieldwork within an Australian pro-coal lobbying organization, this paper finds that contrary to studies which have explained the forms of denial and complicity of those implicated in perpetuating climate change as deriving from an insufficient integration of moral and ethical concern (Norgaard 2006; 2012; McDermott Hughes 2017), amongst the pro-coal lobbyists I knew it was precisely the everyday ethical judgements and reflections which gave a moral weight to their defence of the coal industry. This chapter introduces the growing anthropological attention to ordinary ethics (Lambek 2010; Stafford 2013; Das 2012) into the aforementioned literature on climate change reception studies. Paying attention to ordinary spaces like dinner table debates, this paper shows how challenges from friends and family encourage lobbyists to craft ethical stances that reinforce their lobbying efforts. These everyday forms of interpersonal accusation lead to projects of self-fashioning in which lobbyists craft themselves into ethical persons within the space of the morally debated Australian coal industry. I attempt to move beyond claims of denialism or co-optation that are often levelled at such actors to show that a conscientious ethics underlies their motivations and understandings of their work. I will argue that recognizing the ethically infused way in which lobbyists engage with these moral debates over the industry and climate change is crucial to understanding the workings of freedom and power (Laidlaw 2002; 2014), and particularly, the ordinary and everyday production of complicity.

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