The Norwegian Whaling Controversy: Claimsmaking, Framing, and Science in International Environmental Politics
Sociology University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Sociology University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC, USA
Norway has long enjoyed a reputation as an environmental leader. Yet, paradoxically, it is one of a handful of nations that have defied the International Whaling Commission´s ban on whaling, resulting in an ongoing international controversy. This paper draws on theories of claimsmaking and framing, as well as on literature about the uses of science in environmental controversies, to analyze this international dispute. Examination of the historical roots of the controversy and the arguments mounted by both sides in recent years shows that prestigious spokespersons, claims invoking the prestige and legitimacy of science, and graphic images - all strategies suggested by the literature on claimsmaking - have indeed been used. Nevertheless, the analysis also reveals that the dispute has been played out primarily as a framing contest, in which the contending sides have mobilized frames and counterframes to make their claims credible and persuasive and modified their frames in response to their opponents´ strategies and ongoing events. Norway has defended its whaling as representing a science-based effort to responsibly manage whale stocks and protect biodiversity. This framing aligns its practices with broadly accepted principles of sustainability and ecological modernization. Whaling critics attempted to circumvent these arguments by focusing primarily on the morality of hunting an allegedly sentient species, aligning their framing with human rights frames that trump national sovereignty and enjoy wide legitimacy. The limitations of science as a tool for policy-makers faced with competing claims about environmental problems are also well illustrated by this case. Scientific research working within the paradigm of managing whale populations sustainably was plagued by familiar problems of contradictory research findings and slow progress in accumulating knowledge and reaching scientific consensus; however, as evidence that Norwegian whaling might indeed be sustainable emerged, whaling opponents began to emphasize arguments that whales were sentient, social beings. These claims were also potential topics of research, but the opponents? strong reliance on moral arguments as justifications for banning whaling tended to direct attention away from research.