Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Climate change, green economy and the cosmo-politics of Mesoamerica (and its surroundings)
Location British Museum - Studio
Date and Start Time 27 May, 2016 at 11:30
Sessions 1


  • Cristiano Tallè (University of Naples "L'Orientale") email
  • Francesco Zanotelli (University of Messina) email

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Short Abstract

Meteorological phenomena, in Mesoamerican cosmologies, are social actors that interact with human beings in a common cosmo-political arena. Mesoamerica is also a key area for green policy against climate change. The panel aim is to analyze ethnographically this connection and its frictions.

Long Abstract

The 'green' model of energy resources exploitation has become the dominant paradigm of environmental policies in the globalized economic scene. Mesoamerica is a key area of this 'green turn' in the contemporary era: Mesoamerica is not only the scene of extreme climatic events but is also one of the leading theaters of the economic and political actions against climate changes in Latin America. Despite the rallying cry of 'sustainability', the exploitation of renewable energy sources often acquires, here as elsewhere, the characteristic of 'green grabbing'. Frictions (Tsing) and conflictive situations often produce a paradoxical impasse, that need to be investigated.

The panel aims to analyze in the same frame the perspectives of indigenous cosmo-politics (de la Cadena) with the green political economy, the indigenous knowledges with the techno-scientific paradigm.

Case-studies taken from Mesoamerica offer a privileged perspective of this matter. Meteorological phenomena (rain, wind, clouds, lightning), in Mesoamerican cosmologies, are endowed with human characteristics and play the role of socio-political actors. In other words, they interact with human beings in a common cosmo-political arena.

In the contemporary regime of 'green governmentality', this localized cosmopolitics enters into a complex relationship with the regional, national and trans-national political-economic apparatus, as well as with the extractivist logic of energy production, rooted on techno-scientific knowledge.

The panel welcomes papers that analyze this interface rarely investigated from an ethnographic perspective. We also hope in an ethnographically-based dialogue with experts from other sciences that may contribute to better and more comprehensive solutions to these growing challenges. Case studies will be welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


From representation to action in Totonac Communities

Authors: Annamaria Lammel (Université Paris 8)  email
Esther Katz (IRD)  email

Short Abstract

The history for the Totonac population of Mexico consists in a systemic interaction between different human groups and the natural world. Meteorological phenomena take part of the model of order or of chaos. This holistic view permits to the Totonacs become active participants.

Long Abstract

The objective of this proposal is to present the results of a longitudinal case study (33 years) on climate representation realized in the Totonac population in the state of Veracruz of Mexico. The methodology consisted in participant observations, in systematic interviews and in documentary analyses during the period between 1982 until 2015. First, the representation of climate and of meteorological phenomena of the Totonacs will be presented in relationship with the human and the biophysical-world's history. Than, the perception of the first signs of climate change's impacts (from 1985) will be analyzed in comparison with the "green" model of energy resources.. The specificity of the holistic view of "climate change" in the Totonac perception will be presented. Finally, we will situate the actual political actions of the Totonacs against the sources of climate change, their fight to survive, to adapt and to protect their communities against the consequences of climate change in relationship with their systemic view. The results will be analysed in the light of relevant literature.

Winds of resistance and the ruthless practices of climate change governance in the Southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A case study on the Ikoods and Binizáa local knowledge and their defence of sovereig

Author: Alejandro Castaneira (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia )  email

Short Abstract

With local knowledge of wind cycles, Ikoods and Binizáa challenge the transregional global climate governance in legal deeds and sovereign Assemblies, while Indigenous territories are in focus to generate over thirty thousand MW with wind energy, disregarding cultural and territorial rights.

Long Abstract

Local knowledge on cycles of wind blowing forces, became ancestral ritual practices of the Ikoods and the Binizáa. The South bound dry wind Tehuano crosses the continent from the Gulf of Mexico down to the Pacific, sweeping through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and the North bound wind coming up from the Pacific brings up moisture.

Transregional climate change governance institutions have pointed out the great wind potential of the southern Isthmus to produce over thirty thousand megawatts, and official planners are expecting a steady growth of two thousand MW yearly, to reach a wind harvest goal of 12000 MW by 2025.

In view of such a huge potential, companies investing in the region have been greedily disregarding people's territorial and cultural rights. Twenty two wind farms were installed already without free, prior and informed consent. Due a lack of inclusive regional planning and institutional disrespect to indigenous sovereignty and right to participate in the decision making processes and benefits, a large number of social, legal and environmental issues have arouse chaotically and stopped some projects.

This paper intends to analyse the background and forthcoming of conflict in Ikoods and Binizáa territories that surround the lacunar system, and explore how their biocultural and environmental knowledge comes up front in legal deeds and how old forms of social organization reborn to challenge the technocentrical development planners.

The (un)sustainability of the wind. Meteorological agency and political conflict in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico

Authors: Francesco Zanotelli (University of Messina)  email
Cristiano Tallè (University of Naples "L'Orientale")  email

Short Abstract

The paper takes into account the conception of meteorological agency and political authority of the Huave indian confronting it with the ‘green’ sustainability and climate change policy in the context of the conflicts generated by wind farm projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Mexico).

Long Abstract

In the last twenty years, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, South-Western Mexico, has become the scene of several wind farm projects that have resulted in growing disputes throughout the region where Huave and Zapotec indians usually fish and farm. The paper analyzes this friction under a cosmopolitics approach with the purpose to achieve a better comprehension of climate change and sustainability from one local perspective.

In the local existential horizon, the agency of meteorological elements takes evidence phenomenologically in the morphogenesis of the landscape. The everyday knowledge, together with the mythical narrative collected among Huave indians, tell of a 'co-agency' between human beings and meteorological elements aimed at shaping the landscape. In this perspective, Huave people refers to the contemporary manifestation of seasonal climate change calling into question moral responsibilities and the local construction of the idea of authority.

This cosmopolitics of natural elements is mirrored in the ideology of unanimity that stands as a moral reference for the political behavior of the authorities and of the communal assembly. The massive installation of turbines seems to threaten this ideology: the wind farm project is conceived as a further factor of vulnerability because it goes together with corruption, factionalism and because it anticipates the loss of food sovereignty linked to the risk that the lagoon ecosystem will be upset in the future. The dramatic consequence is that the renewable industry originally conceived as a response to the climate change, turns out to be unsustainable.

(Cosmo)politics of 'green economy' projects in the Wayuu territory of Colombian Guajira

Author: Alessandro Mancuso (Università degli studi di Palermo-Dipartimento Culture e Società)  email

Short Abstract

In Colombian Guajira, Wayuu people were interested in last 30 years by big extractive projects. More recently, some ‘green' windfarm projects have been installed. Integrating other works on these processes with my own ethnographic experience, I explore the (cosmo)political issues this case raise.

Long Abstract

Though not part of the Mesoamerican area, Wayuu people of the Guajira peninsula (Colombia and Venezuela) situate in its surroundings (Circum-Caribbean area). Their 'semi-autonomy' till recent times was strongly undermined in last four decades by the co-occurrence of various processes (growth of State and armed illegal actors' presence, drug trafficking, development of extractive industries managed by transnational companies), among which the Cerrejón coal mine is paramount. In last ten years, in some areas of the Wayuu Colombian resguardo (legally constituted indigenous territory) of Media y Alta Guajira wind farm projects, linked to credit carbon international programs were installed. Although wind farm projects are generally considered an example of green economy, some ethnographic works have studied the many issues and conflicts related to territorial and political representation definition and compensation negotiations which raise from the relationship among Wayuu people and indigenous organization and these projects' management, pointing too at the impact on the different conceptualization of wind and other atmospheric agents (first of all rain) which in Wayuu cosmology hold a special status, which is not only that they have in a 'naturalist' ontology. Looking at the current debates on indigenous cosmopolitics and indigenity, and comparing these studies with my research experience among the Wayuu, the paper explores the significance of this case for these topics, with a particular stress on dimensions (as concepts of territoriality, ethnic identity, forms of political representation, idioms of compensation) which crosscut the issue of ontological hybridization and coexistence.

Agroecological experiments in Guatemala: agricultural resilience to socio-ecological changes

Author: Julie Hermesse (University of Louvain - FNRS)  email

Short Abstract

Based on in-depth empirical studies undertaken among rural populations of the Altiplano of Guatemala, the proposed paper aims at contributing to produce knowledge about the construction, transmission, and even recovery, of agroecological know-how that is resilient to climatic risks.

Long Abstract

Torn between, on the one hand, a desire to struggle for its peasant and Latin-American identity, and, on the other, the productivist mechanisms of economic development, Central America is a fragile region. Its economy relies mainly on intensive agricultural activity intended for export. Nevertheless, faced with the neo-liberal system's stranglehold on the Mesoamerican peasant world, various vectors of resistance are taking form with regard to the intensive model. In such a context, there is a need to question the situation of agroecology in the region. Supported by committed intellectuals and many non-profit organizations, the civil society plays a major role in disseminating it.

The case study in Guatemala will lead us to focus on the particular question of valorizing traditional agricultural techniques in teaching the subject of agroecology. Agroecology relies on agroecological principles and on indigenous practices and knowledge (local, traditional). It represents an alloy between practices with distinct origins.

The tools for transmission of these new agricultural practices are the levers of individual and social transformation. Moreover, beyond a one-way transmission from teacher to learner, the re-mobilization of traditional local skills transmitted by earlier generations upsets classical Western teaching. This presentation will thus deal with what is an issue for agroecology: the hybrid character of agroecological knowledge which is neither restricted to an academic milieu, nor uniquely the fruit of ancestral agricultural skills. Lastly, it will emphasize the importance of anthropology's role within the agroecological approach and particularly in the valorization and conservation of traditional local skills for managing resources.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.