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Tuesday, July 28 • 10:31 - 12:00
"Using social media to understand young citizens’ perceptions of landscapes facing energy-related change: the Mactaquac Dam, New Brunswick, and the Site C Dam proposal, British Columbia"

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Authors: Yan Chen and Kate Sherren


Although large-scale landscape changes such as hydroelectric dams will arguably affect younger generations the most, this demographic is often absent from traditional stakeholder engagement processes (Checkoway & Montoya, 2005). Much of the engagement around such issues that does occur within this demographic cohort - Generation Y who were born from early 1980s to early 2000s - happens online. Online is also where this generation documents its lifestyle and landscape preferences. This phenomenon makes social media sites a valuable source of secondary data to help proponents and decision-makers anticipate the impacts of proposals on this important but largely invisible demographic. 

Two active hydroelectric dam issues provide a useful set of cases. The Mactaquac dam, in New Brunswick, was built in the late 1960s and is facing an early end of its lifespan due to faulty construction. Three options are being considered for its future, refurbishment, decommissioning (but keeping the headpond), and removal (New Brunswick Power, n.d.). In northern British Columbia, the now-approved Site C dam on the Peace River will be a similar size and capacity. The opinion of young residents is largely unknown about both projects. 


There are two main objectives for this research: first, to understand young citizens’ landscape perception in areas facing energy proposals, specifically the visual aspects and use values of landscapes, and, second, how these might change under various scenarios at each site (Soini, Vaarala & Pouta, 2012). More specifically, this aims to identify the landscape elements that are appreciated most by young citizens, to find out how they use different types of landscape, and to understand various values of the landscape for them. 


Young people are active on social media sites and many social media platforms have become popular alternative space for modern public participation (Bertot, Jaeger & Grimes, 2010; Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010; Autry & Kelly, 2012; Juris, 2012; Tufekci & Wilson, 2012). Thus, it is possible to use data from social media to understand their landscape perceptions for both cases. In this study, photographic data is being collected by geographic location from Instagram. Those photos showing landscape in Mactaquac or the Site C areas will be coded into different theme categories, such as landscape elements, landscape values, and activities. The coding results will present an image of young citizens’ landscape perceptions and help to anticipate potential challenges to those perceptions presented by particular energy options. Also, text-based data collected by site-specific hashtags from Twitter, as a complementary part, will also help to understand young people’s opinion toward these two energy projects. 


We have collected almost a year’s worth of images from each site, and have begun coding these. Preliminary insights will be discussed, along with challenges of extracting meaning from photos. 

Future Work: 

The data collection work will be finished by the end of October, 2015. The photo coding work is expected to be finished by December, whereupon semi-quantitative methods will be used for analysis. 


Yan Chen

Master of Environmental Studies Candidate, Dalhousie University

Tuesday July 28, 2015 10:31 - 12:00 EDT
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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