Words and Waves
: Ecological Dialogism as an Approach to Discourse, Community, and Marine Renewable Energy in Orkney

  • Rebecca Ford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This thesis explores how relationships between the local community in Orkney and the Marine Renewable Energy sector are enacted through discourse; exploring how, through the embodied process of relating, individual and shared narratives emerge which shape understanding and behaviour.
Adopting ecological dialogism as an approach to meaning making, which recognises the fundamental importance of context, both in terms of the sociocultural context in which discourse takes place, and the physical environment in which it is enacted, it identifies how stories and storytelling have played a powerful role in shaping relationships between people, place and energy technology. It argues for the need to take stories seriously as part of ecologies of meaning making, emphasising how texts of all kinds from official documents to oral conversations can be utilised as part of the storytelling process, and makes the connection between authorship and authority in relationships of power.
It details my experiences during twenty months of fieldwork in Orkney engaging with the marine environment and renewable energy sector and explores the powerful narratives around energy and environment I encountered. By telling the story of ‘Team Orkney’ I show how an understanding of mutual interdependency and a commitment to collaboration within the sector mirrors wider cultural narratives about the nature of community in Orkney. In the face of external threats this story has been powerful enough to bring together multiple organisations to develop collaborative projects, even in the midst of competing agendas. Maintaining this collaboration has required an enormous amount of ‘invisible work’ in the form of care for interpersonal relationships, and I explore how stories and storytelling can be understood as part of this work of care. This research suggests that understanding the power of stories and the role of care in the process of technology development is important to our future relationships with energy and environment, in Orkney and beyond.
Date of Award21 Jan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorDonna Heddle (Supervisor)

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