The University of Arizona

Framing fracking: private property, common resources, and regimes of governance

Anastasia Hudgins, Amanda Poole


In this policy ethnography we examine the discourse related to unconventional natural gas development in western Pennsylvania in order to illuminate expressions of political power in attempts to manufacture consent. We focus on the overlapping spheres of influence between the state and capital to dissect techniques of governance as they operate at the level of civil society. Data collection from fieldwork and discourse analysis, particularly focused on discourse about recent legislation to regulate the booming natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, reveals the ways in which industry proponents attempt to corral public opinion to the goal of extracting and amassing capital. We analyze how industry actors try to gain and draw from the authority and approval of the state in those efforts. In turn, the state uses its socially sanctioned authority to reframe water, land, air, community, health, and self around a paradigm that interprets those as sources of profit. This case study examines how, under neoliberalism, the state organizes knowledge on the topic of fracking such that the balance of power shifts further out of democratic reach.

Key Words: capital, discourse analysis, ethnography, fracking, Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania Act 13, governance

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