FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

The public Debates on Energy Transition in Germany and France. Understanding ecological transformations by crossing two sociological approaches to discourse ; – ENERGICORPUS

The Energy Transition in Public Debates in Germany and France.

Adressing ecological transformations by crossing two sociological approaches to discourse

Alternatives, controversies and battles of influence around the future of energies

This Franco-German collaborative research combines the cross-fertilization of different but similar theoretical and methodological perspectives in discourse analysis based on corpuses, the adaptation of computer procedures distributed in several software programs developed in France, including Prospero, specially adapted for the German language, and cross-referenced surveys on debates, controversies and public policies around the energy transition (Energiewende). By bringing together a pragmatic sociology of controversies (on the French side) and a discourse analysis linked to the sociology of knowledge on the German side (SKAD), we considerably enrich the modes of comparison between the two countries on a major theme, that of energy issues, in a period of «chronic multiple crises« (environmental, political, economic«).<br /><br />By confronting two analytical frameworks, we can develop new concepts, interpretative grids, corpora and digital tools. The project attempts to grasp the development of public discourse on the relationship between energy and the environment over the long term (from 1970 to the present), providing a solid basis for interpreting current events and future developments in both countries, as well as at European level.

The main deliverable of this research is the construction of large digital corpuses, analyzed with Prospero software whose functionalities are cross-referenced with the SKAD method. From the corpora, it is possible to produce dynamic maps of the interplay of actors and arguments, forms of public mobilization and debate, decisions and instruments of governance of energy systems, in relation to the political changes at work in both countries.

The two teams have so far focused on translating the Prospero interface into German and setting up the main tools (dictionaries, ontologies and semantic concept grids, for the automatic processing of German language corpuses.
The anteriority of the energy issue in Germany is linked to the power of expression of ecologists, and was strenghened by two significant events, the fall of the wall (1989) and the exit of nuclear power decided after Fukushima. That means that there is no real long-term comparison with France, based on two commensurable corpuses. On the other hand, it is possible to highlight the processes by which actors in each country make comparisons - the comparison argument being at the heart of argumentative analyses. In the field of energy, there are not only speeches and technical devices whose control is more or less centralized, public or private, consensual or controversial: there are principles of equivalence, Mega-Watts, CO2 emissions and costs. The use of equivalences, and more generally of scientific support, with all the epistemic tensions that result from them, form a heuristic way to work on the contrastive analysis between France and Germany..

There are significant conflicts at different scales, despite the apparent consensus on the need for an «energy transition«. While wind farms are often challenged locally, critical positions are developing on a whole range of technologies and «solutions«, whether it concerns the continued operation of lignite mines (Hambach), doubts about the sustainability of certain technologies (geothermal, photovoltaic, methanisation) or tensions between local cooperative networks and capitalist industries. As for nuclear and shale gas (but also bed gas), conflicts develop differently depending on the fate of projects and installations.

Work on the constitution and interpretation of the corpuses is in progress, but there are obviously already a series of significant results. Some were expected and are not surprising, others are more interesting and will provide the material for multiple future communications and publications.

The two teams intend to take maximum advantage in the next two years of the capacity of socio-informatics software designed around Prospero to make possible and interpretable revelations of discursive phenomena related to the compilation of long time series and the confrontation of discourses from heterogeneous actors operating at different scales. From this point of view, increasingly precise exchanges with researcher-developers at the Institut des Systèmes Complexes de Paris-Île-de-France may lead to the creation of a collaborative and evolving corpus library, an open and innovative follow-up to the work carried out for this ANR-DFG.

Organization of a first Workshop at the University of Augsburg on 25 and 26 October 2019, entitled: Transition stakes and scales. Dissenting arguments and conflicting prospects in French and German energy debates and practices.
12 speakers, French and German, particularly competent in SHS on energy issues.

When we compare France and Germany, conflicts, debates and energy policies have followed different trajectories, with a rather weak ecological movement and the hegemony of nuclear power on the French side, a more structured ecological movement since the 1980s and a recent mixed energy system on the German side. Recently, as a result of climate policies and European directives, significant changes have occurred, creating convergences at different scales in both countries.
This research project has two main objectives. First of all, based on theoretical and methodological backgrounds, it will cross two approaches to discourse analysis, developed in both countries, and which have focused on technological risks and ecological conflicts: on the French side, the pragmatic sociology of controversy (using a specific software, Prospero) and, on the German side, the analysis of discourse related to the sociology of knowledge (SKAD). Despite their widespread use in the social sciences in France (sociology of controversies) and in Germany (SKAD) for more than a decade, they did not find the opportunity to collaborate and to overcome the linguistic barrier between their respective academic fields.
The second objective is to analyze the development of public discourses around energy system and the environment, considering them over the long term (from 1970 to the present). By creating a common heuristic approach, we will organize the comparison of the argumentative trajectories followed in the two countries, paying attention to the multiple interconnections, partly due to the relationships built through the European institutions. A number of significant events have played the role of reconfigurators and the collaborative team will grasp both the differences of interpretation and the socio-technical dynamics produced in Germany as in France.
To articulate strongly the two objectives, we will build a series of large digital corpora in order to analyze with the Prospero software, specifically adapted in connection with SKAD's methodological apparatus. The integrated use of the two approaches will produce dynamic maps of the sets of actors and arguments, forms of mobilization and public debates, sets of decisions and normative instruments, providing a comprehensive view on energy transition and transformations of public spheres in both countries. This collaborative research will form the touchstone of a sustainable scientific system, based on corpus and common tools, in order to observe and analyze the transformations that take place (or not) in the political and technological spheres around the energy and environmental issues in Europe.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UNA Université d'Augsburg
Groupe de Sociologie Pragmatique et Réflexive (EHESS) GSPR - EHESS

Help of the ANR 332,658 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2018 - 36 Months

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