Introduction and theoretical framework
With the emergence of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the birth of “Fridays for Future” (FFF), the global climate movement experienced unprecedented growth in 2019. The figure of Thunberg became an FFF myth, spreading quickly in the media and on social networks, and she was even chosen to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year at just 16 years old. Her actions and speeches catalyzed the emergence of a global social movement that has multiple local groups worldwide, mobilizing millions of people around the globe in 2019 (Thompson, 2020; Wahlström et al., 2019).
It is not possible to understand FFF’s success at mobilizing people separate from the rise of Greta Thunberg and the rapid territorial deployment of the youth movement in its different local expressions and the role of social networks because, as Garrett and Edwards (2007) point out, they promote the involvement of geographically dispersed actors and this means that transnational problems can be responded to quickly and in a variety of ways. But, apart from acting as a foundational element, how has the figure of the Swedish activist contributed to constructing the frame of the new youth wave of the climate movement? How has the myth of Greta Thunberg permeated and been framed in the different local groups of the FFF movement? To answer these questions, this paper will analyze Thunberg's heroization process, the characteristics and evolution of the collective action frame promoted by the activist and references to her by the local FFF Barcelona on social media. Greta Thunberg and FFF represent an exceptional case to analyze how global social movements construct their frames through the use of myths – in this case personified in the figure of Greta – and how they are disseminated and realized at a local level thanks to social networks. Since the mid-1980s, social movement studies have incorporated the analysis of collective action frames, emphasizing their key role as agents that produce ideas and social meanings aimed at mobilization and social change. These frames are constructed seamlessly as supporters of a social movement negotiate a shared understanding of a problematic situation they wish to change, and they attribute responsibilities, propose goals and strategies, ultimately urging others to act. In addition, they play a crucial role as aligners of the individual and collective identities of the group (Benford & Snow, 1994; 2000; Snow, 2016; Melucci, 1989; Laraña, 1999). Ultimately, collective action frames help define the “we” in relation to the others, the problem, the grievance, the strategy and the objectives of a movement.
However, the effectiveness of such frames depends on their resonance. It also depends on their ability to be incorporated and reproduced by an increasing number of actors and also to appeal to their target population (Murray, 2020; McCammon, 2013). The capacity for resonance is closely related to the person or people who establish the frames, the coherence between their actions and messages, their authenticity, their credibility and their status within the movement and society (Benford & Snow, 2000). On the other hand, the frames and the affirmation of a new vision, value or ideal that they promote are some of the keys to building leadership in social movements (Jacobs et al., 2020). Therefore, it is convenient to maintain a holistic approach to studying the impact of collective action frames and the leaders or movements that promote them, while still taking into account that both the elements that define the frame and the actors, thanks to their leadership, are pushed forward while garnering the resonance necessary to promote mobilization.
The way that mythological stories are used contributes to affective bonding with discourse and it has been studied particularly in the field of fiction, advertising, or political and journalistic discourse (Kelsey, 2017; García-García et al., 2011). The telling of the hero's journey or monomyth is a tool used for leadership creation and is based on the archetypal figure of Carl Jung's hero, who must complete a series of milestones. This narrative structure has its origin in Campbell’s (1949) “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. It is fitting to point out that most stories and mythologies present in different ancestral and contemporary cultures follow the same pattern, although they are unconsciously adapted to different times and geographical locations. This pattern is schematic and is made up of twelve different steps that come together to create a whole and explain a story that is not limited to the literal meaning of the text. These phases are: the ordinary world; the call for adventure; the refusal of the call; meeting the mentor or supernatural aid; crossing the threshold; tests, allies and enemies; the approach; the ordeal; the reward; the road back; resurrection; and the return with the elixir (Campbell, 1998).
As argued by Goren (2007), the "heroization" process is an interpersonal phenomenon, a product and, in turn, an instrument that is at the service of the group. This means, therefore, that the hero cannot exist in isolation. The connectivity and integration of the leader within the community and the movement, in fact, are essential requirements for his archetypal leadership in the form of a hero or heroine to endure (Harter & Heuvel, 2020). As with the construction of the frames, therefore, the process of "heroization" is a living phenomenon which is the product of the negotiation between the different members and groups of the movement. This need for connectivity and constant negotiation between the hero or heroine and the rest of the members of the movement means that, apart from analyzing the process of "heroization" and its interrelation with the generation of frames, it is also necessary to study how the connections necessary for both heroes and frames to stay current and relevant are established. For this purpose, and in the specific case of the FFF movement, it is essential to analyze the role of social networks which, as Jung et al. (2020) stated, were key in increasing Greta Thunberg’s exposure in a short period of time and that she used and continues to use as a direct communication channel. Thus, social networks play a fundamental role both in the propagation and resonance of the movement’s frame and in the dissemination of its actions (Bennet & Segerberg, 2012; Lee & Man-Chan, 2016). This is also more evident in the case of the FFF, which is mostly a youth movement (de-Moor et al., 2020; Fisher, 2019) and one which has expanded rapidly thanks to the Internet. Since the beginning of the last decade, with the global mobilizations of the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street marking a turning point, social movements have increasingly used the Internet for various purposes, including constructing their collective identity, recruiting new activists, and promoting actions and protests at a global and local level. (Bennet, 2012; Ackland & O'Neil, 2011; Anduiza et al., 2014). To describe these dynamics, Bennett and Segerberg (2012) have developed the concept of connective action. According to them, among the characteristics of the connective action are the use of frames of general content instead of political, which can, therefore, be customized and adapted to various situations.
The new wave of the climate movement, and FFF, in particular, represents a paradigmatic case of a glocal movement in which there is a constant dialogue of adaptation of global objectives, messages and strategies to the specific contexts of each local group in the climate movement. This nature of the movement makes the online environment a vital space for the construction of social and political commitment as in the example of digital citizenship (Ceccarini, 2021). Consequently, there are two aspects that are expected to stand out when analyzing FFF Barcelona’s social network use: Firstly, initial identification with the collective action frame of the youth climate movement, in which the speeches of Greta Thunberg have a special relevance and leadership value and secondly, adaptation to the local context by the use of speeches detailing the complaints and struggles typical of the platform. The present article examines how the framework of the last wave of the climate movement is constructed at a global level and how it is collected, accommodated, and adapted locally. In particular, it analyzes how the figure and the discourse of Greta Thunberg constructs a new reinforced and legitimized frame through the archetypal journey of the hero or monomyth. To examine how this frame is incorporated into a local reality of the global movement, the social network messages posted by FFF Barcelona are analyzed.
Data and methods
The study combines the qualitative analysis of the speeches of Greta Thunberg with a quantitative approach to the content analysis of the social networks of FFF Barcelona. At a chronological level, since the construction of frames in social movements is a progressive and dialogical process (Benford & Snow, 1994), the article studies the period that begins with the emergence of the movement (in August 2018 for Greta and in February 2019 for FFF Barcelona) up until the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020, the latter completely altering the movement’s messages and strategies, in addition to causing the new cycle of climate protest to slow down (de-Moor et al., 2020).
For the analysis of Greta's figure and her message, the methodological framework of mythological-discursive analysis (Kelsey, 2017; 2020) has been used, systematizing the relationship of Greta's speech with the construction of the monomyth archetype. To this end, the analysis of all her public speeches made at conferences, mobilizations, or climate summits during the analyzed period (a total of 22) has been used. In parallel, all the publications on the activist's official social networks (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) have been reviewed in order to identify key moments of the monomyth that are not present in her speeches but that are part of her public story. With this objective in mind, three online posts that reflect three transitions of Greta's journey are incorporated into the analysis: the approach, the road back, and the return with the elixir. This completes the analogy of Greta's story with the phases of Campbell's monomyth (1949) that are presented in the following section in four major stages. In this same analysis, the appearance and evolution of the framework is systematized, which, based on previous studies (Benford & Snow, 1994; 2000; Snow, 2016; Laraña, 1999), can be broken down into five constitutive elements: the “we”, the problem, the grievance, the others, and the strategy.
In the analysis of the way in which the local group of the movement in Barcelona incorporates and adapts the frame proposed by Greta, all the messages from the official Twitter and Instagram accounts of FFF have been analyzed beginning in February 2019 and continuing to March 2020. In this case, a quantitative content analysis that allows the identification and measurement of the elements of the framework previously identified in the analysis of Greta's discourse was chosen. The analysis of the content that the movement publishes on social networks leaves a record of the messages that is particularly useful to study the evolution of her discourse (Polletta & Gardner, 2015). In total, 664 posts (527 tweets and 137 Instagram posts and stories) have been coded, using a codebook specially developed for the study. For each post, 33 variables have been coded, including those that collect the different elements of the Greta frame, the operationalization of which is presented in Table 1 below.
Analysis of results
Greta Thunberg’s journey and the construction of the frame
In this section, the heroization process and the construction of Greta Thunberg's framework will be considered together. It is presented as the construction of the frame and its different elements – the “we”, the problem, the grievance, the others and the strategy – that go hand-in-hand with the different stages of Joseph Campbell's monomyth embodied in Greta's story.
As stated by Espejel-Gómez and Hidalgo-Toledo (2020), Greta Thunberg's speeches and public appearances correspond to important events related to summits and conferences on climate change organized by international organizations. However, Thunberg's strategic communications in speech, actions and social network posts match a strategy that aims to construct the myth of Greta and construct a frame that is suitable for the climate movement through a discourse that, as Leung (2020) points out, has a great emotional charge. Figure 1 shows fragments from her speeches and communications on social networks and illustrates the structure of Greta's storytelling in the form of a monomyth.
a) Stage 1 (October-November 2018): The call, the rejection of the call, supernatural aid, and crossing the threshold. In this stage, the Swedish activist reveals how she first learned about the existence of climate change, her subsequent depression and silence, and the Asperger syndrome that she was diagnosed with that would become her gift or magical knowledge. She crosses the first threshold when in August 2018 she decided to go on a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish Parliament (communications 3 and 4 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). This first stage is where Greta introduces the key elements of the frame. The problem is the climate emergency; the grievance is the future being at risk; the objective is for world leaders to commit to the Paris Agreement and limit global warming and therefore promote climate justice (which will remain constant and become the guiding force of the movement). The strategy consists of rebelling through school strikes, the others (world leaders) being accused of remaining silent in the face of the climate crisis or emergency. The “we” is represented by future generations led by Greta. Her story, which, at this time, is highly individualized, serves to emphasize her deep concern for the problem and legitimize the personal strategy of the strike.
b) Stage 2 (December 2018-July 2019): Test, allies, and enemies. The second stage of Greta's journey is plagued by tests, having to face the other for the first time. However, she also demonstrates that she is accompanied by new allies, such as the European Economic and Social Committee, which was held in Brussels in February 2019 (communication 7 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). Generational discourse, for its part, is very much present in the first communication of this stage at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice in December 2018 (communication 5 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540) when she says that since leaders behave like children, the children will have to take responsibility. In this phase of the monomyth, the “we”, referring only to future generations, gains importance and the focus on Thunberg herself fades. The figure of the enemy also takes center stage and Greta addresses the others, the antagonists, more harshly, accusing them of inaction. She adds panic to the emotional part of the speech when she tells them that "The house is on fire and I want you to panic" (communication 6 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540).
c) Stage 3 (August-November 2019): Approach, ordeal, reward, and road back. Before facing the ordeal, the "heroine" of the story must overcome obstacles in the approach phase. A perfect illustration of this is the sailing trip that the activist made across the Atlantic to reach the Climate Action Summit New York (communication 15 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). Greta Thunberg has become strong and has gained many allies before reaching the great battle. For this, the “we” not only includes future generations but also some adults and even the people in general, as seen at the Global Climate Strike in Montreal and New York in September 2019 (communication 17 and 19 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). In the speech at the Summit on Climate Action in New York, Greta is direct and to the point when she addresses world leaders, whom she accuses of stealing the future and betraying future generations with their empty words, including expressions of anger such as the already iconic "How dare you?" (Communication 18 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). After the ordeal and at the end of this stage, thanks to the enormous mobilizing success of the Climate Strike Week, Greta makes her way back to Europe, which represents the road back in her monomyth (communication 20 available at https://doi. org / 10.6084 / m9.figshare.13491540).
d) Stage 4 (December 2019): Resurrection and return with the elixir. Greta's resurrection occurs before COP 25, held in Madrid in December 2019. At this point in the monomyth, generational discourse disappears from Thunberg’s frame and the strategy focuses on collective action and social awareness. The others are accused of betrayal and the “we” becomes the people, who are those that offer hope as seen when she states that "hope is not found within the walls of COP25, [...] you are the hope" (Communication 21 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). Greta's journey culminates in obtaining hope, a new vision of the future, which would be equivalent to the elixir in the monomyth. This is what the activist lost as a child when she saw that no one was doing anything to combat the existential threat posed by the climate emergency for the planet and for future generations. Finally, on December 17, 2019, Thunberg returns home (communication 23 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540). The subsequent speeches made in the months of January and March 2020 correspond to a post-monomyth stage and the biggest change in the framework is the return of generational discourse (communications 24 and 25 available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13491540).
After analyzing Greta's monomyth and the evolution of the framework promoted by the activist through her communications, it can be clearly seen how the grievance, the problem, and the objective remain constant throughout the story. Changes or nuances occur in terms of what is meant by the “we”; beginning with Greta and future generations and evolving until it becomes “we, the people.”
Another aspect that evolves is the blame placed on the others (world leaders), moving from silence to inaction, culminating in empty words, insufficient action, and finally betrayal. Strikes, on the other hand, are a constant in the strategy; although, social awareness, uniting behind the science and other forms of collective action, are included as the story evolves.
The Greta Thunberg frame in Fridays for Future Barcelona
With the aim of detecting how the FFF movement in its local expression uses the figure of myth embodied by Greta and the elements key to her narrative, this section analyses the presence of Greta and her frame in FFF Barcelona’s social media posts.
The analysis of the timeline of the FFF Barcelona Twitter and Instagram accounts in Figure 2 shows that the direct presence of Greta, both through direct references or retweets, is very residual. For instance, Greta is included only nine times through direct mentions or references in the text or photos and she is retweeted 32 times, meaning that she appears only in 3.0% of all posts in the period analyzed. Furthermore, these appearances occur mainly in the initial stages of FFF Barcelona, as an element of identification with the global movement, and her presence declined in the final months of the period.
However, apart from the direct presence of Greta in the FFF BCN social media posts, the impact of her figure can be measured in relation to the ability to define the movement’s frame in local expressions. The content analysis of Twitter and Instagram makes it possible to monitor the presence and evolution of the constituent elements of the Greta frame that was identified in the above section. Table 1 presents how these elements have been operationalized in the coding for the content analysis of FFF Barcelona’s social media posts.
Figure 3 shows the evolution of the presence of the different elements of the Greta framework in the FFF Barcelona Twitter and Instagram posts, together with the timing of the activist's monomyth stages. As can be seen in the graph, if all posts that contain at least one of the elements are considered, the Greta frame is present in two thirds of the posts at any given stage during the period analyzed.
Analyzing the elements in the Greta frame separately allows for a deeper understanding of their incorporation and adaptation in the social media messages of FFF Barcelona as well as their dialogue with the evolution of Greta's discourse in the same period. Similar to that seen in the quantitative analysis of Greta's direct references presented above, in the initial phase of the movement there is a greater alignment with the message of the global movement and Greta in particular. It can be observed that the different frame elements are present in a balanced way during this period. However, the message was quickly adapted to the local characteristics of FFF Barcelona. Thus, the presence of generational discourse and the strike as a strategy of the movement rapidly diminishes. FFF Barcelona stops organizing weekly strikes every Friday in June 2019 and opts for other more reactive methods of protest or those more in tune with the dynamics of its own campaigns. Regarding generational discourse, FFF Barcelona quickly established very close links with other non-youth local environmental organizations and movements, which may have reduced the degree of generational identity of the movement in Barcelona. At this point, it seems that FFF Barcelona is ahead of Greta in the evolution of the movement’s frame in that “we, the people” is incorporated sooner than in Greta’s case. Conversely, at the end of 2019 Greta is increasingly using the idea of collective action and awareness as key strategies of the movement, in addition to employing strikes as a tool.
Hence, it seems that the evolution of other elements of the frame interact both with the local reality and the dynamics of the movement at the global level as well as instances of Greta's speech and its evolution in the monomyth phases. The presence of the climate emergency, for example, has a peak in August and September 2019. This is the approach phase in Greta's monomyth, where she must face the ordeal of framing the fight against the climate emergency at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. At a local level, coinciding with the Climate Summit, FFF Barcelona saw its most intense week of mobilizations that culminated in a demonstration with 100,000 participants. This protest was organized under the slogan “climate emergency”. It is at this moment that it is possible to see how the importance of critical discourse with the antagonists grows in the FFF Barcelona social media posts and it is during Greta's speech at the New York Summit at the end of September that she takes on her most confrontational tone with world leaders: "How dare you!" This milestone in Thunberg’s story coincides with a turning point in the frames used by FFF Barcelona: For the first time the antagonist frame exceeds the climate emergency frame, and it will continue to be so. At a local level, the increased occurrence of more aggressive discourse aimed at the antagonists coincides with the preparation of the COP25 that was relocated to Madrid. At this point, the message in FFF Barcelona social media influences the criticism of leaders, who meet without taking the necessary precautions as required by the situation.
Finally, there is also a positive evolution in the use of the future from this moment until the start of the pandemic. In Greta's monomyth, it is the time of resurrection and return with the elixir. In her discourse, there are stronger messages of trust towards the power of the people ("we, the people") and of hope about the future. This is also shared in the FFF Barcelona social media posts and this clearly shows a strengthening of their links with other movements and local organizations. The analysis of the evolution of the elements of the Greta frame in the FFF Barcelona social media posts highlights the centrality of this frame in the message that the movement sends out in Barcelona and its relationship with the dynamics of Greta's own discourse and the global movement. But, apart from the activists responsible for the movement's social networks, does the Greta framework have any impact on the followers of FFF Barcelona? The content analysis of social networks makes it possible to measure the effect that the use of the Greta frame has on the impact that posts have on their followers through the "likes" and "retweets" they receive.
Figure 4 shows the predicted impact values of FFF Barcelona posts based on whether they contain elements of the Greta frame. These values are derived from a logistic regression model that allows the effect of other variables 1 on the impact of the posts to be controlled.
According to the model, the use of the Greta frame in FFF Barcelona posts on Twitter and Instagram always makes them more likely to receive “likes” or be “retweeted”. The empirical evidence suggests that the followers of the Barcelona movement on social networks identify more with the messages that contain elements of the Greta frame. This effect is accentuated as of October 2019, coinciding with the greater proportion of discourse criticizing antagonists in the FFF Barcelona posts. This consistent with results from previous studies that suggest that posts on social networks with a greater emotional and criticizing load create the perception of polarization and increase the post’s impact (Espejel-Gómez & Hidalgo-Toledo, 2020; Jung et al., 2020).
Discussion and conclusions
In a hyper-connected world, where information circulates at high speed, the appearance of myths and archetypes facilitates understanding and simplifies emotional ascription to complex ideas and phenomena (Kelsey, 2017). This article, by analyzing the case of Greta Thunberg and FFF, shows how this phenomenon also occurs in social movements and that it is not limited to fiction, advertising and political or journalistic discourse. In particular, it shows how the activist's heroization process has contributed to the construction and impact of the powerful new climate movement frame. In this case, the monomyth tool has served to harmonize and match the growing notoriety of Greta's figure with the generation and resonance of frames that the activist promotes and adapts over time. Social networks offer the ideal context for accelerating the exchange of information, essential for connecting these phenomena with the rest of the movement in general and with local FFF groups.
In general terms, Greta's frame and her radical approach to voicing her demands represent an evolution of the existing climate justice frame in the global movement for climate (della-Porta & Parks, 2013), adding a strong generational identity component and a greater dose of urgency with the use of the term’s crisis or climate emergency (Murray, 2020; Leung, 2020). The results have shown how the different components of this new global framework are reproduced in FFF Barcelona messages on Twitter and Instagram and how they are being adapted as Greta's monomyth evolves. The use of this frame also increases the impact of the messages among followers on social networks.
It might seem contradictory that, despite the obvious influence of Greta's frame on FFF Barcelona messages, direct references to the activist are very scarce. However, FFF in general and the Barcelona local group, in particular, are characterized by an autonomous and horizontal structure. In addition, in Barcelona, there is a strong legacy of the Indignados movement, characterized by the non-recognition of personalist leaderships and the rejection of formal organization (Castells, 2012). Furthermore, Bennet (2012) and Anduiza et al. (2014) point out that both the characteristics of the connective action seen in the most recent social movements and their use of digital media and social networks, these groups are self-organizing and do not have central actors or leaders. Thus, based on the results from this study and current trends in social movements, the figure of Greta should not be considered from a leadership perspective but from her symbolic-mythological function.
The synchronic analysis of the evolution of the Greta frame and that of FFF Barcelona means that the way in which the activist's narrative is also influenced by the activity of the local groups of the movement can be inferred. In particular, the evolution in Greta's discourse regarding the “we” – which includes and ever-widening range of people – and that of the strategy – which began with a school strike and has since developed to include a wider variety of methods – seems to be closely linked to the direct experience of the groups and local partnerships with other actors. Therefore, despite the centrality of Greta, the global framework of the new wave of the climate movement seems to be constructed in a dialogical and bidirectional way that is based on local experiences and contributions. This result shows how, even in movements of a global nature, there is a dialogue with local contexts, reinforcing Benford and Snow’s (2000) idea that collective action frameworks are not static, but dynamic, and are influenced by the elements of the socio-cultural and political context of which they are part. There is no doubt that social networks bring audiences closer together as well as globalize them, but the resonance capacity of collective action frames depends on their dynamism and capacity to adapt to local realities. As the case of Greta and FFF shows, the digital environment offers a space for glocal exchange where values and aspirations emerge through the interaction of individuals who make decisions and construct society, generating digital citizenship (Ceccarini, 2021). This article provides some evidence of the dynamics of creation and resonance of a frame that has had an unprecedented impact. The gains made by the climate movement in 2018 and 2019 cannot be understood without considering this phenomenon. However, it is the magnitude of the phenomenon that reveals some of the limitations of the present study. First, despite its relevance, the case of Barcelona is insufficient to fully capture the complexity of the effect of the relationship between Greta's global frame and territorialized realities. It is therefore necessary to analyze the role of the frame in the uneven impact of the movement in the Global South. Similarly, in order to fully understand the figure of Greta and the resonance of the frame, it is necessary to take into account the key role of other actors such as the media or even international institutions, as well as the direct testimony of young activists.
All these aspects open the door to an extremely lively and active research agenda which needs to include a fundamental factor from now on, that of COVID-19’s impact. For this article, it was decided not to include data from after the start of the global pandemic because it changed the context entirely. But it is precisely for this reason that it makes this an exceptional moment to study the extent to which Greta and the climate movement are able to adapt the frame and regain the attention of a world dealing with multiple emergencies while rebuilding itself. (1)