Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Mobility, Weather, and Climate Change
Location British Museum - BP Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 4


  • Tatiana Argounova-Low (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Susan Crate
Discussant Tim Ingold

Short Abstract

This panel proposes to examine different forms of mobility, restrictive and opening up, in relation to weather and climate change. The panel invites papers that focus on human and animal mobility and technological changes incurred by the weather.

Long Abstract

Mobility is fundamental in social processes, and subsequently are directly affected by the weather and climate change. This panel proposes to examine the phenomenon of mobility, in its different forms, in relation to the weather and climate change. We want to highlight the restrictions and limitations that curtail journeys and their associated tasks as well as extended opportunities of movement due to weather and climate change.

We are interested in hearing how the weather and climate change impact existing patterns of movement or bring change to the existing patterns of sociality afforded by different mobilities. The following possible, but not restrictive, themes can highlight such aspects: perception of travel and weather; changes in weather and subsequent negative or positive effects on the patterns of human and animal mobility; the physicality and technical aspects of movement and mobility; the material and technological aspects of mobility in relation to climate change.

We invite papers that address ethnographic case studies that focus on local and global changes in mobility patterns of humans and animals as related to the weather. Or instance are interested in studies that address the way climate change undermines existing knowledge, expertise and skill related to the weather; the way climate change influences the environment and its consequences for travel and movement; and the way changes in weather are creating new technological changes, improvisations, and amendments.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Frozen: Temporality and Permanency of Roads in Sakha (Yakutia), Siberia

Authors: Tatiana Argounova-Low (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates aspects of temporality and permanency of roads and affordances that are provided by seasonal changes. Climate, frost, winter conditions and permafrost affect and influence the stability, functioning and operation of the roads and mobility in the area.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates aspects of temporality and permanency of roads and affordances that are provided by seasonal changes. Climate, frost, winter conditions and permafrost affect and influence the stability, functioning and operation of the roads and mobility in the area. The paper will focus on the ice roads, which are intensively used by truck drivers to deliver vital supplies to Arctic villages in the short winter season. It will specifically focus on the Lena River which, during the winter months, turns into a highway that operates as a federal road.

Designing with Thawing Ice: Changing Technology, Mobility and Skillscape in the Far North

Author: Svetlana Usenyuk-Kravchuk (Ural State University of Architecture and Art)  email

Short Abstract

The paper claims that the key to successful adaptation to changing climate in the Arctic is in rethinking ways of human-technology interaction and use based on the best local practices of living on-the-go. Three case studies centred on nomadic communities from the Russian North support this claim.

Long Abstract

In studies of people's movement/mobility remote arctic territories present a unique setting where throughout the history of human presence the challenges of nature have encouraged a strong reliance on technology and evoked the creative response to understand and overcome those challenges (Jørgensen and Sørlin 2013; Ingold 2011).

Nowadays the Arctic as a global 'melting space' with different - sometimes conflicting - interests, actors and practices involved, is undergoing rapid change accompanied by a proliferation of transport, information and communication technologies. In these conditions, northern inhabitants have come up with inventive developments in low temperature "fluid technologies" (De Laet and Mol 2000) including numerous reconfigurations of ex-situ vehicles. Also, as extreme weather conditions are tipping, i.e. when it is less possible to rely on traditions, changes in local skillscape come to light. All the above makes the Arctic a perspicuous setting to study the best examples of human responses to climate changes.

This paper presents initial insights from the ongoing project "Mobility in the Arctic: Ethnic Traditions and Technological Innovations," where the multidisciplinary team of social scientists and designers explores distinctive models of Arctic nomadism in Chukotka, Yamal and Kola Peninsulas. Participatory observations coupled with GPS-tracking and mapping revealed that, while a daily nomadic routine is now widely facilitated with mechanized/cyber technologies, the key is in people's ability to build their ways of living on-the-go every season, all over again. To elaborate on this, I introduce three case studies from the selected localities to reveal how mobility needs under environmental changes are satisfied.

Radio Monsoon: Marine weather for artisanal fishers, with feedback to forecasters

Author: Maxmillan Martin (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

Artisanal fishers in Thiruvananthapuram, south India, brave uncertain weather, waves and winds during the monsoon season. Radio Monsoon offers them marine forecasts in the local language through the Internet, mobile phones, and loudspeakers; with feedback to forecasters, based on the fishers’ knowledge.

Long Abstract

One of the largest concentrations of artisanal fishers, Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala in south India is known for strong winds, high waves, and overcast sky during the monsoon season. Still, often fishers go to sea under uncertain and risky conditions in the absence of easily accessible marine weather forecasts. Boat capsizes and straying into shipping channels are frequent.

The fishers often rely exclusively on their traditional knowledge. While social and cultural factors shape perceptions of risk, perceptions can promote or hinder risk appreciation, communication and attitudes to risk reduction (Douglas and Wildavsky 1982, Cannon et al. 2014). Therefore, traditional practices can complement scientific knowledge and tools.

In this context, Radio Monsoon offers regular marine weather forecasts to the fishers, using the Internet, mobile phones, free phone services, social media, loudspeakers and word of mouth. The 'radio station' works with fishermen's societies and local school science clubs. This experiment involves sharing of weather, wind and wave data and collection of feedback on the accuracy, reliability, relevance and timing of dissemination services. It compares four elements - forecast data, instrument observation, and fishers' own predictions and observations. After a well-received pilot, supported by the Sussex Innovation Centre, Radio Monsoon now plans to expand its services.



Douglas, M. and Wildavsky, A. (1982) Risk and Culture. University of California Press, 1982.

Cannon, T., Schipper, L, Bankoff, G. and Krüger, F. (eds.) (2014) World Disasters Report 2014: Focus on culture and risk. Geneva: IFRC.

Tana stories: Fluidity and changing Arctic water and weather encounters

Author: Gro Ween (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper attempts to take seriously the fluidity that characterizes people’s engagement with landscape, water and weather in the Norwegian Arctic. On the basis of such relations, it goes on to question with the introduction of anthropogenic climate change.

Long Abstract

Tana Fjord is the end point of the fresh water gushing down the Tana River from all the smaller tributaries in the Sami core territories. Nutritious water pours down from the high mountain plateaus and the tundra, feeding the fish in the fjord. The salmon, that people depend on, spends its lifetime travelling between the river and the sea. Other animals follow the salmon.

But water is much more: it is a constant presence to the people who live near it, and a force that up until now has been experienced as something to be reckoned with. People here experience water as an active, constant, but also changing element. Communities near the sea have intimate experience of the predictable, rhythmical, seasonal changes, well as nature's unpredictability. Living nearby, and off what is in the sea, brings acknowledgement of how everything is interrelated. Water, what it interfaces with, and what is in it, figures as essential elements in people's lives. People who live on these waterways never assume that water or weather can be controlled, nor that there is a point in worrying about it. The same fluidity moreover, I contend, characterises local knowledges, socialities and human-fish relations.

In this paper, I follow an idea of fluidity as the co-constituting of thought and practice in the Norwegian Arctic, and I explore what happens when people are confronted with, what to others are anthropogenic changes in weather patterns, and subsequent changes in the migration patterns of significant animals.

The Changing Land: Movement, Knowledge, Skills and Climate Change in the Canadian North

Author: Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the epistemological and ontological affects related to alternating patterns in movement (atmospheric and phenomenological) for Dene people, materials and animals as a result of climatic changes in the Canadian North.

Long Abstract

In the Canadian North, the effects of climatic changes have become increasingly dire and concrete. Gwich'in, Dene people who live in the northern northwest corner of Canada, have observed and experienced a large number of changes on their land and in the sky. Gwich'in Elders state that they find it more difficult to read the weather and water. The land, too, is thawing and changing with sink holes and localised flooding becoming more apparent. Not only do these alterations influence a variety of facets in Gwich'in lives (e.g. processes of knowledge and skills and the mobility of people and goods), they also affect animals. Movement is an integral part in northern lives with many animals and people accordingly migrating in correspondence with the seasons. Changes in the rivers, on the land and in the atmosphere, then, affects such movements both in the community and on the land. In this paper I want to address the notions and narratives of weather and climate change. I further illuminate the epistemological and ontological affects related to alternating patterns in movement (atmospheric and phenomenological) and immobility for Gwich'in, animals, and materials.

Climate Change and Adapting Mobility among Western Mongolian Pastoralists

Author: Linda Tubach (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

Pastoralism is still the major economy in rural Mongolia, while its conditions have been ever changing. Recently climate extremes increased and have caused devastating animal losses. This paper investigates how pastoralists respond to droughts and winter hazards by adapting their seasonal movements.

Long Abstract

Since 1991 pastoralists have experienced transformation processes from socialism to a market oriented economy that significantly altered the risks of herding from state cooperatives to individual households. General risk calculations mainly included animal losses caused by predators (human and animal ones), epidemics, and weather extremes. However, during the past years pastoralists have experienced droughts and winter hazards more frequently than before. Herders perceive both extreme forms of weather as interrelated and connect them to discourses of climate change and global warming. According to these discourses, local people's assumptions are that changes in climate will most likely cause more droughts and winter hazards in the future. From the herders' point of view, prospects of a rural livelihood in Mongolia have arguably changed from a situation of calculable risks to menacing uncertainty. Hence it is doubtful whether pastoralists' traditional social and economic strategies are still sufficient. As ethnographic fieldwork in Western Mongolia in 2014/15 showed, changes in seasonal migration patterns have become important strategies to adapt to extreme weather conditions. Alternative responses like increasing fodder production for winter or limiting the numbers of animals for more sustainable pasture usage were barely considered. This paper investigates under what conditions and how individual herders adapted their seasonal movements and discusses possible consequences and limitations of this strategy.

Water flows, rock flows, but people do not: rain-related landslides and halted movement for waged labour and fodder collection in the Indian Himalayas

Author: Heid Jerstad (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

When rain causes landslides around the Indian village of Gau, the movement of men for waged work and mainly women for fodder is halted. The heavy rain of mid-June 2013 forms part of the weather to which people in Gau ‘adjust.’ They live with the opportunities for movement permitted by the rain.

Long Abstract

This paper is about the movement of rain, rock and people. Weather is defined by its movement, as well as characterising place. So when weather changes, the ground beneath is changed. Human and animal life then becomes subject to new ecological conditions. In the village of Gau in the Indian Himalayas, many men work elsewhere, in factories or as drivers. But when the winter rain or the monsoon arrives, the mountainside slips and new roads are rendered impassable. The rain puts a halt to labour migration and affinal visits alike. Meanwhile, in the village, women and men going out to the steep mountainsides to cut grass and leafy branches for the dairy buffalo. They carry this fodder along the narrow paths, moving for the animals. When it rains, however, the people of Gau stay at home, as Lalita did when her husband could not return to work for three days in June 2013 because of the extremely heavy rain. The people of Gau and surrounding villages are subject to the landslides and the rain, and their cash migration and bovine care becomes compromised, they must 'adjust' (English term used). They live with the staccato opportunities for movement permitted by the rain.

On færð: melodramas of climate change, weather and mobility in Iceland

Author: Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the idea of færð, road conditions in relation to weather, in Iceland. Drawing on the notions of melodrama and melancholy, the paper relates, how færð, simultaneously hides and reveals concerns over climate change while betraying anxieties over the fate of the national 'thing'.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the notion of færð, primarily road conditions in relation to weather, in Iceland. A frequent topic of everyday conversations in Iceland and a matter of repeatedly updated news, færð brings together a number of key concerns about weather, climate change and mobility in the country. Living in a harsh environment has long been an important aspect of the articulation of national identity in Iceland, while mobility is understood as key to economic progress and prosperity. Drawing on the notions of melodrama and melancholy, the paper relates how færð, simultaneously hides and reveals concerns over climate change while betraying anxieties over the fate of the national 'thing'.

Keli and climate change: enabling and disabling movement in Finnish Lapland

Author: Franz Krause (University of Cologne)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork in Finnish Lapland, this presentation discusses the local idea of keli ('conditions for movement') and juxtaposes it to the idea of climate change as an alternative idiom for understanding transformations of an environment’s mobility affordances.

Long Abstract

Inhabitants of the province of Lapland use the Finnish term keli as a shorthand for the conditions that enable outdoors activities, in particular travelling. Today referring to anything from driving a car to rowing a boat or collecting mushrooms, linguists assume that the term originates in describing the state of winter travel routes. With its direct link to specific activities, keli is a relational and malleable concept, subsuming a range of mostly weather-related phenomena. People widely use it to index seasonal transformations of their lifeworlds, but also to comment on unusual phenomena in the seasonal round, phenomena that are addressed under the label of climate change, too.

This presentation outlines some of the practical meanings of keli for people from Finnish Lapland, and sketches some of the strategies these people use to deal with its breakdown - kelirikko, or unfavourable conditions for movement. Furthermore, it speculates how a framing of unfavourable conditions in terms of keli parallels, and differs from, their framing in terms of climate change. I argue that a critical difference in conceiving (im)mobility through keli or climate change lies in their degrees of abstraction, where the former always refers to concrete ways and projects of movement. Therefore, keli(rikko) may afford a more meaningful way to understand a changing climate and ways of dealing with it.

Mobility, territoriality, reciprocity: Spatial and institutional dimensions of Mongolian pastoralists' adaptation to climate change

Author: Andrei Marin (Norwegian University of Life-sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The present article illustrates the importance of mobility as the most important strategy of the Mongolian pastoralists to adapt to the changing climate, and the institutional principles that ensure maintenance and deployment of this adaptation strategy.

Long Abstract

Mongolian herders depend on mobility in order to access varied and variable resources and withstand increasingly frequent climate extremes. In addition to extreme events, recent changes in precipitation patterns are rendering the essential summer rains (and thus pasture productivity) patchier and the growing season shorter. Consequently, people and livestock need to become increasingly mobile. Despite popular imagery of Mongolian pastoralists as carefree 'nomads', mobility is a complex negotiation between push- and pull- circumstances that either inhibit or encourage increased mobility.

Drawing on a mix of participant observations, in-depth interviews, herder-drawn migration maps, and life history conversations, the paper illustrates the complexities of mobility in the context of increasingly adverse weather and climate. It shows that patterns of movement have changed historically under the influence of weather and climate change. It also shows that current mobility is being restricted by technological changes that render it expensive, by increased bureaucratisation, and by rural development patterns. The paper dwells in more detail on how patterns of human sociality and of livestock behaviour influence mobility patterns. Thus, pastoral mobility is facilitated by principles (institutions) in the pastoralist practice and tradition, and in Mongolian culture as a whole. One of these institutions is a type of territoriality that is inclusive and flexible, allowing herders to claim and receive shelter in other herders' homelands especially during difficult weather. In addition, collaboration between the receiving and in-migrant herders is based on an institutionalized form of reciprocity, by which help is given in virtue of a mutuality principle.

Tracking the Complexity of Change and Issues of Mobility in Mongolia

Author: Susan Crate (George Mason University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shows the importance of considering all the drivers of change that effect local subsistence and mobility, including globalization, youth out-migration, and climate change.

Long Abstract

In this paper I use preliminary research, working with herding households in Mongolia, to show the importance of considering all the drivers of change that effect local subsistence and mobility, including globalization, youth out-migration, and climate change. I draw on my longer-term research in NE Siberia to illustrate both the similar drivers rural households are challenged by, or the complexity of change, and also the diversity of cultural perceptions and responses. Herein I argue the importance of anthropological insights to move forward understandings of climate change and specifically to contribute to effective interdisciplinary efforts.

Rejecting Traditional Resilience: The Immobility Turn in Coastal Louisiana

Authors: Craig Colten (Louisiana State University)  email
Jessica Simms (Louisiana State University)  email
Audrey Grismore (Louisiana State University)  email

Short Abstract

Contrary to migration literature, vulnerable coastal residents in Louisiana are rejecting traditional resilient practices than include geographic mobility in the face of sea level rise and coastal restoration projects that threaten resource-based livelihoods.

Long Abstract

Migration literature observes that human mobility resulting from changing environmental circumstances tends to follow established cycles and routes. In coastal Louisiana, USA, a very different pattern is emerging in the face of serious land loss, sea level rise, and intensification of tropical cyclones. Geographic and economic mobility have been central elements of community resilience and have enabled several distinctive, resource-based minority communities to persist in place. Native Americans, Spanish-speaking Islenos, and Acadians, along with other European, Asian, and African groups have been gradually retreating from perilous coastal settlements and adjusting their livelihoods as environmental conditions or public policies forced adaptations. Yet in recent years, numerous social and economic adjustments have reduced the mobility options at a time when movement is becoming increasingly important for survival. Changing practices in resource collection and public policies that regulate oyster and shrimp production have fixed populations in the coastal parishes. Financial arrangements also reduce mobility options. A society with deep attachment to place is sinking its roots even more firmly into the fragile and unraveling wetland soils as it adjusts to changing economic and environmental realities. Additionally, state efforts to restore the disappearing coast will directly impact resource oriented pursuits. Coastal societies met environmental threats in the past by moving inland. Resistance to restoration projects, such as sediment diversions, that might disrupt livelihoods and prompt relocation reflects a rejection of a core traditional resilience practice, and a reluctance to adapt, again, to new environmental circumstances.

Traditional navigators' knowledge of weather and climate change in Lakshadweep, India

Authors: Andrea Deri (Birkbeck, University of London)  email
Janardhanan Sundaresan Pillai (CSIR-NISCAIR)  email
Idrees Babu Konhamkakkada (Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

What insights can we learn from navigators on the impacts of local and regional climate change patterns? We explore ‘Marjan’, the under-researched traditional monsoon navigation knowledge that guides seafarers in the Arabian Sea between the Lakshadweep archipelago’s atolls and mainland India.

Long Abstract

Traditional seafarers' knowledge links local, regional and global weather patterns and may offer an early warning system that has implications for adaptation to climate change. By travelling through dynamic seascapes and atmospheric conditions, navigators can recognize and may predict local and regional weather patterns over time. Seafarers engage in a broad range of dynamic movements, including winds, sea currents, upwelling, and the activities of animals and plants. Observed spatial and temporal environmental changes compared to long-term trends can provide navigators with insight into future scenarios. As seafarers' traditional navigation knowledge draws on environmental observations, their insights of inter-generational environmental change can contribute to the account of local and regional impacts of global climate change.

While traditional navigation knowledge has been studied in the Pacific Ocean, it has attracted significantly less academic attention in the Indian Ocean. Our interdisciplinary team presents an under-researched navigation knowledge, 'Marjan' (Malayalam), a cultural heritage that seafaring people use in the Arabian Sea on their 200-400 km journeys between India's Lakshadweep's atoll communities and Kerala's coasts. Traditional navigation in the Arabian Sea relies primarily on the monsoons' seasonally changing winds. Islanders developed their maritime skills as an adaptation for supporting their livelihood that depends on coconut processing and fishing. Through interviews with traditional navigators in Lakshadweep, we explore 'Marjan', a knowledge-system inherently linked with mobility and influenced by modern technological changes, for its role in small, low-lying, highly vulnerable tropical island communities' adaptation to climate change.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.