Lianne Lefsrud is a doctoral student in Organizational Analysis in the Alberta School of Business. Her research interests lie at the intersection of institutional theory, social movements, and professions. Specifically, she is interested in the role of language and rhetoric to define, value, and shape our conceptions of the environment and regulatory institutions. Prior to starting her PhD, she worked in Regulatory Affairs with APEGGA (Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta), Canadian National Railways, and in environmental consulting, water resource engineering, construction, and oil and gas. Her project is working in the Stewardship of the Planet, and Place, Belonging, and Otherness Research Themes.

Language Matters: Stakeholders' consequential rhetoric in defining Alberta's oil sands

School of Business, Strategic Management and Organization

The development of Alberta's oil sands has sparked increasingly controversial and international debate. Stakeholders describe this resource as 'oil sands', 'bituminous sands', or 'tar sands' and more recently as 'dirty oil', 'ethical oil' and even 'snake oil'. Each of these terms is overflowing with meanings and values - based on scientific, economic, political, legal, environmental, health, and aboriginal cultural rationalities. Rather than fostering an engagement with and understanding of other stakeholders' perspectives, this debate is creating divisiveness - stakeholders talking past rather than with each other. Yet, this plurality of meanings must be understood if we are to have an engaged discussion of commonly held resources, such as the oil sands. The purpose of my research is to understand how stakeholders define oil and water, contest or cooperate in the construction of meaning and, most importantly, how this becomes reflected in regulatory and public policy changes. My research questions are: Historically, how have the meanings of oil and water been co-constructed by those that take a discursive stake in this debate? How do meanings change as a result of new entrants to the debate? How do rhetorically persuasive definitions/valuations become embedded within state and self-regulation? What effect does this have? To answer these questions I use multiple methods: archival analysis of the meaning and value of oil and water within regulatory hearings, in-depth rhetorical analysis of organizational stakeholders' positions within these arenas, and analysis of stakeholders' positions relative to the regulatory outcome to determine the efficacy of their rhetorical strategies.