Snake oil, silver buckshot, and people who hate us: metaphors and conventional discourses of wood-based bioenergy in the rural southeastern United States

  • Authors: Hitchner, Sarah; Schelhas, John;  Brosius, J. Peter
  • Publication Year: 2016
  • Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
  • Source: Human Organization


Multiple experiences and sources of information influence ideas about wood-based bioenergy, and people often use similar language to reference various discourses (e.g., energy independence, rural development, environmental sustainability). We
collected data during ethnographic research in three primary and three secondary field sites in the southeastern United States
in which wood-based bioenergy facilities are located and at regional bioenergy conferences, as well as from publications on
bioenergy from various sources. We use qualitative content analysis to show how various stakeholders in this region frame
issues related to bioenergy, which bioenergy narratives and metaphors they employ, and how recurring linguistic elements are
shared among bioenergy stakeholders. We focus on several key metaphors that people reference when they talk about bioenergy in different contexts, including public media, policy and management discussions, bioenergy conferences, outreach programs, and among landowners and within communities: “snake oil,” “silver buckshot,” and “people who hate us” (i.e., terrorists). We explain how these metaphors employ multiple, overlapping, and sometimes conflicting conventional discourses (Strauss 2012) in order to appeal to emotions and cultural value systems, and we argue that uses of these metaphors act as “moments of influence” (Witter et al. 2015) on perceptions of bioenergy. While it is impossible to know what truly motivates or influences people, by combining these two forms of analysis, we can show how language both reflects and creates shared cultural understanding of developing technologies and their effects on different stakeholders.

  • Citation: Hitchner, Sarah; Schelhas, John; Brosius, J. Peter 2016. Snake oil, silver buckshot, and people who hate us: metaphors and conventional discourses of wood-based bioenergy in the rural southeastern United States. Human Organization, Vol. 75, No. 3: 204-217. 14 p.
  • Keywords: bioenergy, narratives, discourses, southeastern United States, forests
  • Posted Date: September 16, 2016
  • Modified Date: November 22, 2016
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