Framing the frontier – Tracing issues related to soybean expansion in transnational public spheres

Finn Mempel*, Esteve Corbera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Rapid soybean expansion in South America has been linked to numerous socio-environmental problems, including deforestation in sensitive biomes. As a major importing region of soybeans, wider public awareness has also put pressure on the European Union. Different governance initiatives involving various groups of stakeholders have sought to address these issues. However, what is identified as a relevant problem, as a region of interest or which actors are mentioned in this context are all matters of claims-making processes between different groups and mediated through various channels of communication. This study uses a text-mining approach to trace the construction of socio-ecological problems related to soybean expansion and the actors and regions linked with these issues in public discourse. The focus lies on print media from the European Union, but several additional sources are included to investigate the similarities and differences between various communication channels and regions. These include newspaper articles from producing countries and international news agencies, scientific abstracts, corporate statements, and reports from advocacy groups gathered from the mid-1990s to 2020. The results show that European mass media have shifted their focus from consumer labeling, health, and concerns over genetically modified organisms towards more distant or abstract phenomena, such as deforestation and climate change. This has been accompanied with a broader view on different stakeholders, but also with a strong regional focus on the Amazon biome. There has also been much less attention on direct concerns for communities in producing regions, such as land conflicts or disputes over intellectual property rights. We conclude that while European public spheres appear to become more receptive to issues related to impacts in sourcing regions, there remains a narrow focus on specific problems and regions, which reflects a fundamental asymmetry in different stakeholders' ability to shape transnational deliberations and resulting governance processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102308
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Environmental communication
  • Environmental governance
  • Public sphere theory
  • Soy
  • Text mining
  • Topic model


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