School Research Seminar - Public Perceptions, Practices And The Climate Crisis

We are delighted to welcome Sarah Irwin and Katy Wright (University of Leeds) to deliver the School Research Seminar.


Attitudinal data shows extensive public concern about the climate crisis. It is widely commented that such attitudes do not translate into commensurate actions. Influential psychological and behavioural science perspectives see this as a kind of disconnect and point to an attitude behaviour gap which in turn informs policy options and communications strategies. Theories of practice offer a profound critique, switching the analytic lens away from individuals and onto the carbon intensive social, institutional and cultural arrangements, and systems of energy provision, through which people enact their daily lives and which, in turn, they reproduce (eg. Shove 2014). However, there is relatively little sociological research into how people themselves view these enactments. For example, how do they think about emissions, pollution and climate change in relation to everyday practices? How do they reflect on the tensions which arise? In exploring these questions, the paper describes results from a new study of public views and the climate crisis. A survey (n=1676) based in a UK city collected attitudinal data and open ended responses to vignettes posing everyday dilemmas. The survey was followed by qualitative interviews with a subset of respondents. We explore how participants see behaviours and actions to be embedded in social arrangements, relationships and commitments, and often in tension with values relating to reducing emissions and tackling the climate crisis. We also examine how people themselves see interconnections between individual actions and societal change. We argue that better engaging with complexity in lay understandings is important both for theory and policy.

Speaker biographies

Sarah Irwin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds and Director of the Centre for Research into Family, the Life Course and Generations (FLaG). She is newly developing research into lay perceptions, practices and the climate crisis. Her work here partly builds on her longstanding interests in subjective experiences, perceptions, research methods and questions of social explanation.

Katy Wright is Lecturer in Sociology & Social Policy at the University of Leeds and Deputy Director of the Bauman Institute.  Her recent work has focused on the concept of social resilience, examining how people individually and collectively cope with different types of adversity from everyday financial struggles to adverse events and emerging processes like climate change and disasters.  As part of this broader research agenda, she is developing research on lay perceptions and interpretations of the climate crisis and on household emergency preparedness.

Event practicalities and joining details

The event will be held on Zoom, access the meeting via the link and joining details below:

Meeting ID: 889 9205 0157
Passcode: z7^hNV

No booking required.


You can read our statement on academic debate here.