Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Experiencing Displacement in Hazardous Climates: Anthropological Perspectives
Location Senate House - Woburn Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 16:30
Sessions 1


  • Arne Harms (University Leipzig) email

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Short Abstract

This panel engages the displacement of populations by environmental degradations, weather and climate change related disasters from an ethnographic perspective. It aims at carving out what sets these apart from other forms of mobility, and what implication this has for conceptualizing the intersections of climate change and mobility.

Long Abstract

As the world is warming, weather variations, environmental degradations or disasters are predicted to translate into population displacement across the globe. This constellation is widely invoked in media and scholarly writing as a future condition, legal problem and often enough along xenophobic imageries regarding climate change scenarios. Within recent academic debates, movement is discussed as either successful or failed, as an exceptional or routine form of adaptation to it.

Yet we still know very little about how these displacements today play out locally. To address this gap, this panel focusses on displacement in a rather narrow sense. We are interested in understanding dynamics by which populations are ousted or expected to be ousted by the vagaries of weather and environment. Therefore, we seek empirically grounded papers looking at the ways, weather and climate related displacements are anticipated, lived through and negotiated among exposed populations.

We are particularly interested in how such displacements are incorporated into already existing registers of mobility in everyday lifeworlds. We welcome papers engaging the different temporal dimensions of displacement including socially mediated anticipations or afterlives. We ask individual papers to focus on the ways, these temporal dimensions shape present negotiations among affected populations.

We invite papers focusing on all geographic regions. We ask authors to critically reflect on methodological problems arising when researching the intersections of climate change, weather, environment and displacement.

For our panel, we propose the roundtable format based on pre-circulated papers. Each paper will be commented on by a designated discussant and then further explored by all participants.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Climate Change Migration from a Pacific Island Perspective - The Anthropology of Emerging Legal Orders

Author: Silja Klepp (University of Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper introduces a new research perspective on climate change migration and adaptation, which is based on legal anthropology. The aim is to develop an engaged, locally grounded and analytically fruitful perspective on the effects of climate change.

Long Abstract

This paper develops a new concept of how to frame the cultural and social impacts of climate change. The research perspective presented, the Anthropology of Emerging Legal Orders, overcomes shortcomings of notions of vulnerability and resilience as frames for adaptation to climate change and helps us to analyze recent developments on the island state of Kiribati in the central Pacific. As Kiribati is highly affected by climate change, it is one of the first nations in the world in which issues such as climate justice and the search for strategies for climate migrants have become tangible. The government of Kiribati has adopted a proactive role to deal with adaptation and climate change migration. The paper analyses how the government brings together climate change discourses with its struggle for new rights and resources for the country. The implications of anthropogenic climate change generate radical new parameters for law making processes that create emerging legal orders. As climate change is endangering the very existence of Kiribati, we could learn from the new concepts of belonging, migration and solidarity that are developing in the Pacific region. Kiribati could, in this way, emerge as an icon of a new approach to citizenship, mobility and climate change solidarity.

Citizenship at Sea: Environmental Displacement and State Relations in the Indian Sundarbans

Author: Arne Harms (University Leipzig)  email

Short Abstract

In parts of coastal India climate change impacts citizenship via two dimensions of politics: infrastructure and localized political relations. While this illustrates the reworking of state relations by environmental transformations themselves, it also underscores the need to rethink citizenship.

Long Abstract

There is little disagreement today that the current environmental predicament demands a reconfiguration of the political. In this talk I will add an empirical dimension to these timely debates. Making use of on an ethnographic approach, I will interrogate transformations of quotidian state relations by environmental transformations associated with climate change.

Drawing on fieldwork in the Indian Sundarbans, I will argue that environmental degradations (including but not limited to anthropogenic climate change) may very well entail a weakening of claims on citizenship. This does not involve constitutional rights as such, but refers to the messy terrain in which rights and entitlements are playing out at the margins. Climate change, I argue, impacts localized struggles to belong to the polity and to secure entitlements qua citizenship along two dimensions of politics that are crucial for the survival of marginalized population, but are still neglected in political theory. That is, the social life of infrastructure as nodes of state-populations encounters; and localized relations towards bureaucrats and politicians. As much as climate change translates into the dismantling of infrastructure and the displacement of bureaucracies, it involves, I argue, a further weakening of claims on citizenship.

Tempophilia for the future? Understanding temporal perspectives for displacement-related decision-making under climate change in low-lying island communities

Author: Ilan Kelman (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores various temporal perspectives for displacement-related decision-making under climate change in low-lying island communities, focused on understanding tempophilia (having an affinity for the present time) as a framing for constructing the future.

Long Abstract

Climate change impacts are being felt now across many low-lying island communities, yet climate change is still seen by many as being an ephemeral challenge, distant in time and space. Tempophilia focuses on what is happening now and what affects people day-to-day—that is, having an affinity for the present time—yet it is frequently the basis for decision-making that formulates and constructs a future or a set of futures. With much rhetoric, and limited reality so far, of climate change forced displacement, but with expectations for more in the future from low-lying islands, how could the tempophilia-future nexus be better researched to inform policy and practice? Using interviews and understandings regarding climate change and displacement from low-lying island communities across various cultures, challenges in vocalising different temporal frames and interests emerge. Additionally, alternative techniques through performing arts are explored for articulating and possibly reconciling differences in order to communicate and enact decision-making processes for different forms of displacement over various time scales.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.