ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P21)
What can the anthropology of climate change learn from research into other forms of environmental change?
Location Senate House - Montague Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Pauline von Hellermann (Goldsmiths) email
  • William Wheeler (University of Manchester) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores how anthropological studies of environmental change not caused by human alterations of global climate, such as forest cover or water body changes, can theoretically and methodologically inform the anthropology of climate change.

Long Abstract

The study of climate change is an exciting and important new field in environmental anthropology, but there is a longer tradition of anthropological work on other forms of environmental change - for example forest conversion, desertification, or soil degradation - that can potentially offer it theoretical and methodological insights. This panel invites papers discussing key themes in this literature, such as memory, relations between global and local perceptions of change, the 'translation' of indigenous into scientific knowledge, environmental crisis narratives, disequilibrium ecology, uncertainty and variability and resilience and adaptation, or more methodological challenges such as the problem of scale and the use repeat photography. Together, we will seek to assess the ways in which these different existing approaches, debates, methods and findings may or may not be relevant for anthropological studies of climate change. In so doing, we will also discuss whether there is anything distinctive about the nature, scale and effects of man-made climate change and local and global perceptions and reactions to it that sets it apart from other processes of environmental change and therefore requires different forms anthropological engagement.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'The mountain is shrinking': perceptions of change amongst the Bajo of Nain Island, Indonesia.

Author: Elena Burgos Martinez (Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

For the purpose of this paper I will situate adaptation to social change as the cause and environmental variations as consequences of the former, to then argue that coastal narratives of change strategically regulate the matrix of the socio-ecological environments and challenge linear causality.

Long Abstract

Through the analysis of recent ethnographic research carried out amongst sea farers and the coastal peoples of Nain Island, Indonesia, I will explore perceptions and understandings of 'change', a concept and a series of processes embedded in daily life. For the Bajo, change is always beneficial and does not pertain to any domain in particular, change is a defining feature of being a Bajo and being a Bajo is not detachable from being in a Bajo environment. But what constitutes a Bajo environment? By looking at opposing narratives of the shrinking mountain, this paper will look at how processes of eco-semantic expansion can impact on the identity of coastal communities.

Climate change and uncertainty from 'above' and 'below'

Author: Lyla Mehta (Institute of Development Studies, UK)  email

Short Abstract

The paper draws on ongoing research in India (dryland Kutch, Sunderbans and the mega coastal city Mumbai) to analyse diverse discourses and practices of climate change and uncertainty from ‘below’ and from ‘above.’

Long Abstract

The paper's starting point is that while uncertainty debates in climate change have emerged as a 'monster' or 'super wicked problem' for scientists and policy makers alike, quantitative assessments and models (usually based on probabilities ) remain at the heart of the scientific method. But do these factor in the lived realities of local people women and men especially in the global South? A rich ethnographic literature (not necessarily on climate change) has meticulously captured the everyday realities of uncertainty and the multiple coping mechanisms that people at the margins deploy to make sense of, live with and adapt to uncertainty and its effects on their livelihoods and lifestyles. How can these perspectives make their way into the narratives and the discourses of "above" - the experts, modellers, climate scientists and the epistemic communities? Also do models capturing uncertainty in climate change take into account issues concerning a wider political economy and macro-economic and political changes which, in the short term at least, can have effects that may be more drastic than climate change (e.g. land and water grabs, changes in technology etc). The paper draws on ongoing research in India (dryland Kutch, Sunderbans and the mega coastal city Mumbai) to analyse diverse discourses and practices of climate change and uncertainty from 'below' and from 'above' and how they interact in diverse empirical settings. It explores ways to bridge the different perspectives of uncertainty in order to foster socially just ways of dealing with uncertainties and social transformation.

What can the desiccation of the Aral Sea tell us about global climate change?

Author: William Wheeler (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores local experiences of environmental change in the Aral Sea region of Kazakhstan, and uses them to re-cast the vulnerability and resilience paradigm which is often applied in the study of climate change.

Long Abstract

The desiccation of the Aral Sea is famous across the globe as one of the most serious anthropogenic disasters of the twentieth century: over a matter of decades, the fourth-largest inland body of water in the world receded dramatically owing to extraction of water from the sea's feeder rivers by the Soviet authorities to grow cotton and rice in Soviet Central Asia. The fishing industry collapsed and the climate in the region changed, with less rainfall, hotter summers and colder winters, and dust storms became frequent, with deleterious effects on health of local populations. However, my ethnographic research in the Kazakh part of the region shows that locally the sea's desiccation is not conceptualised as a disaster, not least because the Soviet authorities ensured that there was still work, in the fishing industry, even after the sea had dried up. Hence today, narratives of economic collapse following the collapse of the USSR overshadow narratives of ecological change, and complaints about toxic dust in the air are intertwined with commentary on corruption in Kazakhstan today. Therefore I argue, first, that experience of environmental change is always entangled with experiences of other forms of change and stability, especially economic, which may be only indirectly connected with environmental change; and, secondly, that the dominant framework for understanding resilience, as adaptive capacity of small-scale, bounded communities, needs to be re-thought in terms of the connections between different scales.

Narratives and 'actual' environmental change in the Pare Mountains of Tanzania: what implications for the anthropology of climate change?

Author: Pauline von Hellermann (Goldsmiths)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines key narratives of environmental change in Africa in relation to the Pare Mountains in Tanzania, and then explores the usefulness both of identifying similar narratives about climate change and of conceptualising it in terms of multiple simultaneous processes.

Long Abstract

In the 1990s a powerful critique of environmental crisis narratives and their influence on environmental policies in Africa emerged. Anthropologists in particular challenged received wisdom on deforestation, desertification and degradation by not only demonstrating that, on close investigation, many of the most alarming statistics and accounts used in producing crisis narratives were misleading, but also by exposing how vital such crisis narratives were for justifying colonial and post-colonial conservation interventions. But there are several additional narratives about landscape change in Africa: narratives of improvements brought about by colonial and post-colonial intervention and opposing narratives of the disastrous environmental consequences of such interventions. On the basis of repeat photography, and ethnographic and archival research, this paper explores 'actual' environmental change in the South Pare Mountains of Northeastern Tanzania, arguing that not any one of the dominant narratives applies here, but rather that a multiplicity of simultaneous processes mean that all different narratives can be and are told about the same area. It then goes on to examine what the anthropology of climate change can learn from this, firstly with regard to identifying similar crisis and other narratives, and secondly with regard to conceptualising global climate change, too, in terms of multiple simultaneous processes.

Everyday geographies of resilience: Critical insights for climate change adaptation

Author: Emily Boyd (Reading University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on how the notion of 'everyday resilience' can provide critical insights to climate change adaptation, in particular to the context of climate-related extreme events in urban areas. The paper will reflect on three key elements within the context of adaptation among the urban poor in Africa.

Long Abstract

'Resilience' has come to mean many things to many people. The definition of resilience is contested, yet permeates everyday life. Knowledges of how the things we do on an everyday basis and the actions we take puts our activities into a larger context, enhancing connectivity between the awareness of the lives of the individual and the socio-spatial scales at which these actions play out, ranging from the neighborhood to global. This paper focuses on how the notion of 'everyday resilience' can provide critical insights to rethink climate change adaptation, in particular to the context of climate-related extreme events. The paper will reflect on three key elements within the context of adaptation among the urban poor. Firstly, what are the meanings of everyday resilience and what value does it have for society under climate change? Secondly, how can notions of belonging, place, space and so on contribute to enhance the value and meaning of everyday resilience under climate change? Thirdly, how are /can connections be mediated across scales in ways that enhance everyday meaning of resilience?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.