Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Weathering Time Itself: multiple temporalities and the human scale of climate change
Location British Museum - Studio
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Heid Jerstad (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Dilshanie Perera (Stanford University) email

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Discussant Bronislaw Szerszynski

Short Abstract

Climate happens on the atmospheric scale and intersects with human lives as weather. We explore how weather acts through seasonal expectations, narratives of hazard, and predictions of uncertain futures, approaching human temporalities that structure mundane and catastrophic events.

Long Abstract

Climate happens on the atmospheric scale and intersects with human lives as weather. This panel explores how weather acts in everyday life by looking at seasonal expectations, narratives of catastrophic events, and predictions of uncertain futures. We hope to focus on the social and ecological relationships through which people make sense of and manage potentially dangerous weather. These changes bring with them "new challenges (...) of temporal vulnerability" (Crate 2011:181).

Central to these concerns is an attention to multiple temporalities including linear, cyclical, diurnal and geological durations. The papers in this panel will read weather as a pattern or process, as recurrent seasonality, as past experience sedimented in knowledge, as a set of disasters, as mundane backdrop and the uneven unfoldings of events.

The idea of the anthropocene is a large one, and demands a certain cerebral elasticity to extend from human carbon action to vast webs of ramifications. We invite participants whose work takes weather, as an ethnographically achievable object, to think productively about human and social temporalities which structure mundane and potentially catastrophic experiences.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"So much has changed that even people have changed themselves": Intergenerational imaginaries of climate change in Jinja, Uganda.

Author: Katie McQuaid (University of Leeds)  email

Short Abstract

In Jinja, Uganda, narratives of climate change are interwoven with rapid social transformations across the generations and perceived breakdowns in traditional reciprocities and moralities exacerbated by urban poverty, which intersect in the projection of an increasingly uncertain future.

Long Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic and community theatre work, this paper illustrates how within the urban community of Jinja, a town in Eastern Uganda, narratives of climate change are interwoven with perceived social transformations across the generations, which intersect in the projection of an increasingly uncertain future. As part of a wider comparative project examining local imaginaries of intergenerational justice, this paper explores multiple imaginaries of changing weather across the life course, which stretch across the religious, the generational, the structural, the gendered, and the temporal. Here, conceptualisations of weather are often framed through the lens of changes in the ways people live, as experienced by people over their life course. As discussions of sustainability and environmental conservation surface amidst a context of a surging population, rampant deforestation and urbanisation, and increasingly erratic weather, this paper demonstrates how changes in, and uncertainties about, weather, are inextricably interwoven with perceived changes in the generations, and breakdowns in traditional reciprocities and moralities exacerbated by urban poverty; contributing to a more nuanced understanding of the human scale of climate change for urban Ugandans enmeshed within rapidly changing social worlds.

Perception of climate change impacts. Case study of the agro-pastoral community of Gaddi

Author: Maura Bulgheroni (Université Libre de Bruxelles)  email

Short Abstract

Over the last decade, the Himalayan agro-pastoral community of Gaddi (Bharmour, Himachal Pradesh, North India) has experienced and responded to high changes in weather conditions. This work explores how the community perceives its adaptations to reported changes in weather.

Long Abstract

The Gaddi community (Himachal Pradesh, India) reports high changes in weather conditions and these are evaluated in comparison with what is considered a normal weather pattern, generally referring to the pattern observed two decades ago. The reported alterations have visible impacts on the community's traditional livelihood activities. For example, increasing temperatures allow families to cultivate new crops; delayed snowfalls lead to delays in sowing and in the preparation of winter activities such as wood collection; the decreasing snow quantity has diminished families' winter migration; and changes in rain patterns are reducing the quality of vegetation, what results in an increment in pesticide utilization and more frequent shifts between grazing lands.

This work investigates the Gaddi's perceptions of these recent adaptations. Based on a five-months ethnographic fieldwork, preliminary results show that families do not perceive their transforming traditional livelihood practices as responding to changing weather. First, the community does not identify changing weather conditions as an isolated phenomenon but consider them in the context of the overall socioecological system: over the last decades, socio-economic and political conditions have been considerably changing, what has strongly affected household traditional practices and season patterns. In this context, adapting strategies to recent alterations in weather conditions are reported as being an integral part of adaptations to overall systemic changes.

Second, adjustments of traditional livelihood activities timings to recent seasonal shifts are generally viewed by Gaddi as a continuum in their practices. In this way, they are simply following the weather, as they always did.

Whose hands holds the weather?

Author: Aase Jeanette Kvanneid (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore local responses to two weather-related disasters in a village of North India. I analyse responses to these events, which carries a juxtaposition of two rather different temporalities; the narrative of climate change and the cosmology of vernacular Hinduism.

Long Abstract

During my fieldwork in a small Shivalik Hill village in North India, 2013, a devastating flood took place in the neighboring state of Uttarakhand.

This event generated a lot of talk, and worry, which the arrival of the monsoon tend to do. A few weeks later, a smaller landslide in the village it self increased the level of distress, and following precautionary action was taken.

By paying attention to the local reactions and interpretations of these two events, I found that weather is mainly interpreted within a framework of vernacular Hinduism, but that it is also in a certain extent juxtaposed with western scientific tropes of global warming.

This is an interesting juxtaposition, as the environmental narrative of climate change carries with it a linear temporality, where humans propel towards environmental destruction and final apocalypse; whilst Hindu cosmology is largely cyclic, where every end of an era also carries prospects for renewal and a new beginning.

In this paper, I argue that the local perception of the monsoon as purifying agent plays an important part in enabling the people of Rani Mājri to alternate between these two cosmologies, and that weather and temporality both carry social aspects.

Water and wind in-fluxes: the consistency of change

Author: Elena Burgos Martinez (Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on recent ethnographic research carried out amongst the Bajo of Nain Island in North Sulawesi (Indonesia), this paper will explore the role of water and wind dynamics when negotiating socio-ecological relations and de-constructing spaces.

Long Abstract

Water-wind hierarchies and dependencies are crucial when approaching Bajo environmental perceptions and notions of the spatial other. Different wind directions intersect on a daily basis and waves can function as weather vanes for speculation. Based on the use of specific colour codes to predict the severity of certain winds, the Bajo expand their presence from the coast to the deep sea, through narratives of hybrid white waves forming and re-forming where wind directions concur. Water (s) can't possibly be detached from wind (s) and vice versa and understanding the shifting aspects of daily weather rests heavily on air's capacity to move in balance with water. Thus, the confluence of different wind/water directions is often experienced through vernacular senses of change, where the temporal and unpredictable aspects of weather's symbioses identify with what the Bajo understand as the key to foster socio-ecological cohesion: the continuity, fluidity and non-detachability of presences.

For the Bajo, water/wind dynamics go beyond proportionality, positionality and confluence, and challenge dichotomies and divisions of the social and the environmental.

Colonial atmospheres and the emergence of racial identities in South Africa

Author: Rune Flikke (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will position the air and atmosphere as crucial factors shaping the colonial contact zone in South Africa. Through contemporary empirical material I suggest that the African Independent Churches can be reinterpreted as a response to colonial efforts to control the African atmosphere.

Long Abstract

Recent studies have emphasized that the colonial conquest of southern Africa spurred a plethora of new subjectivities. I will add to this body of literature by placing the rather elusive materiality of atmospheres, wind and weather at the center of the colonial contact zone.

I will use historical sources to suggest that a hitherto overlooked aspect of colonialism was a struggle to control and influence the air. Settler communities experienced the atmosphere as an aspect of African nature and people with dire consequences for health, and consequently strove to reshape both the natural- and social surroundings to 'deodorize the air'. Combining these historical sources with contemporary ethnographic evidence from the Zulu Zionist movement in Durban, South Africa, I will argue that contemporary Zulu Zionists ritual practices can be viewed as a creative engagement with European practices of 'air conditioning', which aimed to enclose and purify the colonial atmosphere. This will allow me to trace contemporary ritual practices as ways to materially create new subjectivities in relation to an aerial contact zone that connected atmosphere with olfactive traces of race, prosperity, poverty, health and disease.

Rising Temperatures as Social Critique in India's "Air Conditioned City"

Author: Camille Frazier (University of California, Los Angeles)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines conversations about Bangalore’s weather as insight into popular conceptions of temporal and local specificities of rising temperatures. It considers how past weather patterns figure in political critiques of unbridled urbanization in a rapidly developing city in the global South.

Long Abstract

This paper considers popular discourse among residents of Bangalore, India about rising temperatures as evidence of the city's failings in the form of unbridled urban expansion. Weather has long been central to imaginings of Bangalore as India's "Air Conditioned City," and its excellent weather and even-keel temperatures are well-known throughout the country and are often the first thing mentioned to describe the city. Among Bangalore residents, even those who are relative newcomers to the city, statements about the city's rising temperatures over the past few years have become a very common form of lament that sparks feelings of loss and regret about uncontrolled urban growth. The city's soaring summer temperatures are offered as proof that Bangalore has grown beyond its means, destroying the city's green cover and with it the idyllic weather that characterized the city of the past. Rather than positioning this shift within a larger conversation about climate change at the global level, it is most often the failings of an individual city, within a single generation, that are blamed for this change in weather. In this way, Bangalore's rising temperature is positioned as a visceral and also quantifiable form of urban transformation that is otherwise hard to describe and critique. This paper considers conversations about Bangalore's weather as insight into popular conceptions of temporal and local specificities of rising temperatures. It considers how memories of past weather patterns figure in politically charged statements about the present and future of a rapidly developing city in the global South.

Plastic Landscapes that Enfold: Documents that Materialize

Author: Vasundhara Bhojvaid (Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University. )  email

Short Abstract

The climate is realized in how little contexts or ‘landscapes’ come together in negotiations in a climate change project. What the climate becomes or how plastic landscapes enfold cannot be pre-told and is a result of how researchers, villages, NGO workers, amongst others enmesh with two documents.

Long Abstract

In order to understand the life of a climate change project, this paper will use the concept of 'landscapes' or little meshwork's to highlight what Mosse terms the 'practices of development' (Mosse 2005).

In 2012 a USAID funded project, spearheaded by environmental economists based out of an American university that sought to promote the use of improved cookstoves (ICS) was implemented in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand (India). With a sample of 1050 households it became paramount to convince local NGOs to partner with the project leads - a struggle in synchronizing different temporalities about weather and relatedly health. The negotiations highlighted that the climate was implicated and more importantly realized in the way that different landscapes aligned, without knowing what these landscapes would lead to. Such a view takes on Malabou's notion of plasticity (Malabou 2005) to argue that landscapes are plastic in that they are form giving - context generating - without a pre-conceived notion of what the enfolded form of the landscape will lead to or become, thus allowing for a move beyond inquiries afflicted between the scientific study of an atemporalised nature and the humanist study of a dematerialised history.

By highlighting the materiality of two documents as a relationship across events of seimiosis (Hull 2012), a property of whole social arrangements that enmeshes the American researchers, USAID, the mountain NGO and the people of the villages, the paper will attempt to demonstrate that what the weather becomes is realized through enfolding plastic landscapes.

Weathering climate

Author: Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

Unlike the weather, climate is supposed to be beyond people’s immediate experience of the environment. Nonetheless, based on the analysis of the history and practice of the geosciences, I show that geoscientists turn what is ‘invisible’ to the senses ‘visible’, by playing with shorter time scales.

Long Abstract

As the distinction between climate and weather suggest, knowledge about climate is supposed to be beyond people's immediate experience of the environment, in that it requires the implementation of a long-term record. Based on the analysis of the history and practice of the geosciences, I show that geoscientists have mastered the craft of turning what is 'invisible' to the senses 'visible' by playing with shorter time scales. In thinking and communicating about the past, geoscientists would compress and accelerate long-term environmental processes, often at the cost of dissociating them. Attending to the historical circumstances of the development of this capacity, I show that the objective detachment scientists perceive while envisioning the past, coincides with an optical understanding of time that follows the image of the telescope. Challenging the distinction between climate and weather, and the ideal of objectivity on which it rests, I conclude by discussing recent approaches in environmental anthropology that have adopted it.

The materiality of weather in 'Mango Madness' season: how heat and humidity co-produce everyday practices in Australia's Monsoonal North

Authors: Elspeth Oppermann (Charles Darwin University)  email
Cecily Maller (RMIT University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the remembered and temporally-experienced materiality of monsoonal weather acts to co-produce practices in the labour-intensive workforce in northern Australia. We draw on this understanding to challenge and expand conventional accounts of climate change adaptation.

Long Abstract

The weather of Australia's Monsoonal North has always played a key role in shaping everyday practices. Colloquially, people are said to 'go troppo' during the hot and humid 'mango madness' season. This paper draws on post-humanist theories of social practice to explore the remembered and temporally-experienced materiality of monsoonal weather—specifically heat and humidity. We are interested in how these unique weather conditions act to co-produce outdoor working practices in the region. This paper draws on a case study of electricity infrastructure workers. Their daily exposure to exceptionally harsh conditions means their practices produce the boundary between the mundane and catastrophic, through the ways they experience and manage heat stress. We examine their practices to unpack how people who live and work with already 'extreme' weather navigate everyday impacts of climate change. More specifically, we explore how past memories of weather conditions and the practices which anchor them can become a source of adaptive capacity in the Monsoonal North. Through our analysis we show how working practices (re)produce and are (re)produced by the bodies that 'weather' the weather, becoming shaped by it, and contingently comporting themselves in relation to it. This, we argue, challenges the view that heat and humidity are an external 'risk' to humans, and instead frames weather, and people's embodied experiences and memories of it, as an opportunity for adaptation. We conclude by proposing that a temporal understanding of the materiality of weather in everyday practices enables practical, tangible and meaningful opportunities for climate change adaptation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.