Roadblocks of Polarization - Mechanisms of Cultural Resistance to a Speed Limit on German Highways
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Culture and identity are increasingly recognized as shaping the acceptance of national climate policy and thereby the opportunities, challenges, and dynamics of achieving ambitious climate action. One of the main strands exploring the role of culture and identity in climate action is a perspective that views culture as potentially disruptive to effective climate policy implementation, with the contentious dynamic of polarization as a potential threat to collective climate action. However, the specific mechanisms linking polarization and climate policy resistance remain understudied, despite their inquiry being needed to help understand precisely how cultural resistance to climate policy arises. A particular gap presently exists in the literary canon with respect to the affective, cultural, and societal underpinnings of polarization contributing to opposition towards climate policies that are designed to address automotive emissions and mobility. The research objective of this thesis therefore is to deepen the understanding of the role of culture as a potentially disruptive factor to climate policy implementation in the automotive sector by empirically investigating how theoretically grounded causal mechanisms between polarization and policy resistance manifest in the case of the German highway speed limit opposition, and by drawing implications of those findings for the cultural dimensions of resistance to automotive climate policy more broadly. Three mechanisms are proposed based on existing theory and subsequently empirically studied through a communication-focused application of theory-testing process-tracing. Precisely, the mechanisms’ relevance and manifestations are investigated by analyzing the rationales provided in the context of public statements by politicians, media outlets and private citizens through which resistance to the highway speed limit is justified. The results show that studying causal mechanisms can help generate valuable insights into cultural resistance to climate policy by enabling a focused analysis of the ways in which cultural factors such as polarization might causally contribute to opposition to specific policy measures. In the case of the German speed limit debate, responses to suspicions of untruthful policy intentions and reactions to divergent preferences for optimal levels of governmental behavioral regulation seem to hold most pertinence in explaining how polarization influences policy resistance. The obtained insights thereby particularly indicate that climate policy resistance should be studied in a multi-mechanism way to account for the coexistence of different mechanisms and the complexity of factors contributing to policy responses. Additionally, the fact that some of the empirically observed mechanisms are surprising indicates that cultural dimensions play out in unexpected ways, further enhancing the relevance of their thorough investigation. The thesis concludes that by delving into the causal mechanisms underlying cultural resistance, potentially using a communication-focused application of process-tracing, researchers and policymakers can enhance their understanding of the dynamics between socio-cultural factors and policy resistance, ultimately contributing to more informed and just approaches to addressing climate change.