Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Disciplinary dalliances and disciplinary transformations in an age of climate chaos
Location British Museum - Anthropology Library
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 1


  • Chandana Mathur (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) email
  • Andrew 'Mugsy' Spiegel (University of Cape Town) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Joint WCAA-IUAES Panel

Short Abstract

Climate effects cannot be combated without concerted global action. Further, alliances across disciplines are now being seen as necessary for such global action. The panel will investigate these emerging collaborative practices and their consequences for anthropological and other forms of knowledge.

Long Abstract

It is frequently noted that climate effects cannot be combated without concerted global action. Further, alliances across scholarly disciplines are increasingly regarded as necessary for effective action on a global scale. Climate research has begun to involve anthropology in a variety of new partnerships -- between social sciences and STEM sciences, between anthropology and other social science disciplines, new forms of collaboration between the different sub-fields of anthropology, new kinds of encounters between longstanding hegemonic anthropological tradition and anthropology from elsewhere. Needless to say, all of these partnerships are enmeshed within existing hierarchies of knowledge production and global systems of power. How have they worked out in practice? Are they producing the hoped-for insights or talking at cross purposes? Are they exacerbating disciplinary defensiveness or dissolving boundaries?

This panel seeks to investigate these emerging collaborative practices and to open up a conversation about their consequences for anthropological as well as other forms of knowledge.

This is a joint WCAA-IUAES panel.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


No time for that: How only a re-engineered anthropology can engage the challenges of the anthropocene

Author: David Scott (University of Alabama)  email

Short Abstract

A newly re-engineered Anthropology, proposed herein, can illuminate the human potential for adaptation to meet the challenges of a changing climate. Three structural changes in Anthropology must occur in order for this to happen.

Long Abstract

Anthropology is the study of human potential, defined herein as the expression of human possibility. Anthropology is also the study of human adaptation. Prior to the advent of the Anthropocene, a historical epoch framed by human-induced environmental change, there was no problem with Anthropology engaging the problems of the past and present and largely ignoring the future. Ironically the one social science uniquely positioned to inform us of the possibility for humans to potentially adapt to climate change is largely silent when it comes to engaging the future. The central argument of this treatise is that a more future-orientated, re-configured discipline is both a necessary and sufficient condition in Anthropology to address a key feature of the Anthropocene: Climate change. Outlined herein are three structural changes that must occur if Anthropology is to successfully engage the challenges of the Anthropocene. The first argument is that Anthropology must become more robust and make room in its traditional four-field approach for a fifth field, namely ecological anthropology. The second argument is that Anthropology must become more engaged within itself and the other social sciences in an integrated, interdisciplinary fashion in its approach to climate change. The third and final argument is that Anthropology must become more trans-disciplinary and enroll, engage and embrace those human knowledge systems outside of the traditional academe. Although the ecology of the Anthropocene is marked by complexity and uncertainty, a newly re-engineered Anthropology can illuminate the human potential for adaptation to meet the challenges of a changing climate.

Anthropologists are from Venus, STEM Scientists are from Mars: Pondering the Challenges of Inter-disciplinary Research on the Solar Disinfection of Drinking Water

Author: Chandana Mathur (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)  email

Short Abstract

Wherever SODIS (solar disinfection of drinking water) technologies have been introduced, user compliance has varied greatly, anything from 25% to 95%. Clearly, these interventions must be made in conjunction with critical social research. But how exactly would such a collaboration work in practice?

Long Abstract

The Solar Disinfection of Drinking Water (SODIS) is a simple and effective way of cutting down on disease. Yet, in the contexts in which SODIS technologies have been introduced, user compliance has varied greatly, from as little as 25% to as much as 95%. Clearly, there is more to be learnt from these interventions if this work were to be carried out in conjunction with critical social research.

Ethnographic fieldwork has the potential to reveal how social inequalities are created and contested through conflicts over water. In the SODIS case, the issues may range from the very manner in which the technology enters the field (as a 'clinical trial' of sorts? or by policy directive? or at the initiative of a people's movement?), to the larger national and global political economic currents within which daily struggles over water take place.

While the complementarity of the technical and the ethnographic is not in doubt, there are lingering questions - that this paper will attempt to enumerate -- about how the collaboration is to be effected.

Climate Services in agriculture as support to agrometeorological learning: agrometeorology in need of a stronger farmer focus needs anthropological guidance

Authors: Yunita Triwardani Winarto (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Indonesia)  email
Kees (C.J.) Stigter (Universitas Indonesia)  email

Short Abstract

Agrometeorological learning as policy learning requires new operational agrometeorological and agroclimatological knowledge to be acquired by farmers. This new knowledge must be farmer focused and anthropological understanding is needed to guide these processes

Long Abstract

The Indonesian government adopted the Integrated Pest Management Farmer Field School method in transferring climate related information to farmers in Climate Field Schools. Yet, teaching is terminated once the project is completed, despite the reality of the ongoing changes of climate. However, agrometeorological learning as policy learning is now crucial as part of farmers' responses to climate change. In 2008 we initiated an agrometeorological learning arena, "Science Field Shops", to assist farmers in improving their anticipation capability towards any consequences of climate change in the forthcoming and/or ongoing planting seasons. Building up an inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary collaborative work is the most effective means to achieve that objective. Whereas the agrometeorologist is responsible for designing and providing "climate services", the anthropologist is taking care of the learning process and the institutionalization of the educational commitment within local farming communities. The anthropologist and her students play a significant role as "cultural mediators and translators" and as farmers' counterparts in establishing the new learning habits.

The paper examines the ongoing process of such collaborative work, its achievements, and the constraints of convincing the authorities of its significant contributions. It is also not easy to replicate an interdisciplinary collaboration across local universities where "faculty boundaries" are persisting, and the tradition for interdisciplinary works has not been established yet. Moreover, authorities have difficulties to accept that a farmer-first focus and anthropological guidance in changing farmers' knowledge and practices are indeed crucial. The paper will discuss this based on cases of Science Field Shops in Indonesia.

Exploring the everyday contexts of environmentally sustainable behaviour in Brazil and South Africa: a role for cross-cultural psychology?

Authors: Nick Nash (Cardiff University)  email
Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University)  email
Stuart Capstick (Cardiff University)  email

Short Abstract

How do understandings of ‘environmentally sustainable behaviour’ differ between cultures? We present perspectives from Brazil and South Africa regarding the relationship between sustainability, individual action and wider contexts, and discuss theoretical implications for addressing climate change.

Long Abstract

Responding to climate change requires significant shifts in citizens' lifestyles across the globe. Within social psychology, research has sought to identify psychological factors that might catalyse more environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Whilst psychological approaches have made valuable contributions to understanding environmentally sustainable behaviour, some have argued that it also imposes dominant Western frameworks in ways that that conceal alternative cultural understandings: for example, by conceiving of action on climate change in individualistic and consumerist terms. We propose that environmentally relevant 'behaviour' can be better understood by examining the interaction between cultural, societal and psychological processes, taking into account the language, history, practice and concepts framing behaviour.

Our paper considers two country-specific studies using this interdisciplinary approach. As a major industrialising nation, Brazil has taken a lead on sustainability initiatives, yet environmental issues such as Amazon deforestation and air and water pollution pose major concerns. Meanwhile, in South Africa, economic development and population growth has resulted in severe resource depletion, significant environmental damage and species loss.

We analyse citizens' perceptions of their environmentally-relevant actions in the context of their sociocultural environment, exploring how people understand sustainable behaviours in nuanced and situated ways. We also ask why some citizens express an active environmental commitment whilst others do not, and draw on ideas from across the social sciences in doing so. We highlight the importance of alternative subjectivities - generally overlooked within the social psychological paradigm - and the inherent tensions, conflicts and uncertainties germane to changing people's 'behaviour' in a changing world.

Seeing the social blind spot in a technology focused sub-culture: On the ground experience of climate adaptation planning in manufacturing industries

Author: Valli Murthy (Manufacturing trade association)  email

Short Abstract

Governments often believe that the answer to reducing CO2 emissions from factories is to find better technologies. Technology is important, but is unlikely to create much change by itself. The secret to success is to also create an environment in and around the factory which enables change to happen.

Long Abstract

The process of working on a large study on reducing the climate impact of factories has shown that as well as technological barriers, there are significant social, organisational, psychological and market barriers to change. For example, even if a promising new technology becomes available, businesses may not adopt it because they don't understand it, because they can't afford it or because they are not able to internally communicate its value.

These barriers could be overcome through interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, if business departments co-ordinate with each other (marketing, training, environmental, procurement and technical teams), and if key stakeholders collaborate (industries, governments, academics etc).

One of the most revealing lessons is the importance of proactive and long term leadership by those who need to make the changes. In this case, true climate adaptation will only be possible if industry leaders are inspired to drive change.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.