This paper assesses the impact of large events such as the financial crisis in 2008 and the
Copenhagen meeting in 2009 on the public attention attributed to the climate change issue and to
the related policy discourse in the German press. Based on a quantitative content analysis of the
two largest German national quality newspapers, a quasi-experimental approach will be adopted,
testing the propositions of “punctuated equilibrium theory” (Baumgartner & Jones 1993) in
policy analysis. The paper will also use concepts and approaches in the area of discourse analysis
– from qualitative methods to more formal quantitative approaches to the analysis of discourse
structures and network relations (Janning et al 2009).
Large scale and focusing events such as the economic crisis or the Copenhagen meeting
can trigger shifts and changes in the discourse on climate change. Preliminary analysis has
shown that the economic crisis produced a kink in the issue-attention cycle, triggering a
substantial decrease in public attention as public attention to the economic crisis soared.
Moreover, the results indicate that actors have changed their discursive behavior in the light of
the economic crisis, entailing changes in the actors’ standing and the frames applied by them to
the issue of climate change (Vogt 2009). As natural experiments run short of quantifying causal
links between variables, the observed changes in public attention and discursive behavior can at
least be explained by qualitative explanatory sketches in which the changes and shifts are traced
and interrelated by visual descriptions at various levels.
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