seminar series

Social Life of Climate Change

Seminar Series

These research seminars are interdisciplinary discussions around contemporary debates in the humanistic social sciences of climate change and the environment. Events take multiple formats, including standard seminar format as well as more engaged discussions of relevant readings and works in progress. Most events take place at LSE on Mondays from 1pm-2:30pm. The seminars are open to all. 

The series is co-sponsored by the Department of Geography and Environment, the Department of Sociology, and the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. It is organized by Dr Kasia Paprocki ( and Dr Austin Zeiderman ( of the Department of Geography and Environment and Dr Rebecca Elliott ( of the Department of Sociology. Contact them with any questions. Updates can be found here.

Summer Term 2019

Nayanika Mathur

Department of School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, Oxford

13 May, 1-2:30pm, FAW 9.05

Crooked Cats: Human-Big Cat Entanglements in the Anthropocene

This talk is drawn from longstanding ethnographic research in a region of the Indian Himalaya where tigers and leopards live in close proximity to humans. A core problematic in such multispecies space-sharing is a lack of reliable comprehensive human knowledge of big cats. This ever-present uncertainty holds particularly true for those big cats that are considered “crooked” due to their proclivity for eating humans. Popularly known as “man-eaters”, they remain un-knowable and highly unpredictable in spite of their long history and study by a variety of disciplines ranging from the behavioral sciences and zoology to wildlife conservationism. Against this backdrop of merely speculative knowledge of man-eaters, human co-habitation with them creates a terrifyingly distinct lived atmosphere; one in which there is an effervescence of stories, conspiracy theories, jokes, news items, rumors, critical discourse, rage, and the making of celebrity big cats. I begin by elaborating on these social effects of life and living with man-eaters in South Asia. I then move on to study the discourse of climate change, which is slowly emerging as the hegemonic narrative that not just explains crooked cats but also displaces alternative ways of making sense of these beasts. My core objective in this talk is to ask how might we put these distinct-but-related forms of knowing the nonhuman animal within the same frame of comprehensibility? To do so I draw upon the Anthropocene as a method and probe the extent to which it allows us to work through the quandary of knowing, living, and dealing with potentially predatory big cats in the era of climate change.

Daniel Aldana Cohen

Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

Follow the Carbon: Housing Movements and Carbon Emissions in the 21st Century City

3 June, 1-2:30pm, 32L.B.07

In Follow the Carbon, I will make an empirical argument that ordinary people’s struggles to improve their quality of life can be a force for slashing greenhouse gas emissions, and a theoretical argument that a “collective consumption” perspective (borrowing from Manuel Castells) helps to clarify how this is so. I will draw on fieldwork conducted in São Paulo and New York on low-carbon policy and housing politics, which in New York is culminating in pioneering low-carbon legislation informally called “A Green Dew Deal for New York.” And I will sketch results on the emergence of state-wide “just transition” campaign waged from below in New York State. I will also present early carbon footprint data produced by my collaborator Kevin Ummel, a data scientist and environmental economist; and I will show early results of our new big data project on whole community climate-mapping, which will look at the intersections of inequalities, the built environment, and climate at the neighborhood level across the US. I will argue that private consumption of goods and services, far from exhausting a climate politics of consumption, should be theorized as part of a broader, collective struggle over the social organization of consumption in its broadest sense.

Lent Term 2019

Jesse Goldstein (Department of Sociology,  Virginia Commonwealth University)

4 February, 1-2:30pm, 9.05 FAW / Tower 2
"From Planetary Improvement to Energy Abolition: Against and beyond the Transparent Energy of Whiteness"

In this presentation I examine the role that clean technologies, in particular those associated with renewable energy generation, play within mainstream environmentalism, and specifically calls for a Green New Deal. With a focus on strategies that I term /planetary improvement/, the unfolding climate crisis is often framed as first and foremost an energy crisis, to be solved by the rapid deployment of renewable energy systems that will help “save the planet” without fundamentally altering prevailing patterns of sociotechnical life and material culture.

Without questioning the dire need to promote and realize a significant energy transition, I ask whether these approaches to environmentalism are limited by a colonial and extractive logic and therefore do not go far enough. To what extent do they presuppose a very historically specific form of energy generation, circulation and use, with all possible solutions then framed accordingly? I ask whether the environmentalism articulated therein displays a commitment to the transparent energy of whiteness: universal, place-less, abstract, ever-flowing and unquestionably desirable.

What might it look like to operate instead upon a conceptual terrain that frames environmental struggles for climate justice, just transitions, energy democracy, etc., as a politics of energy abolition? This is not to propose an anti-technological politics that is categorically against all energy or the modern affordances that it enables, but a politics that seriously interrogates the transparent whiteness of energy, that decenters the fetish of technological fixes and opens up the possibility of expanding our conceptions of energy, abundance and the range of possible and viable strategies for building vibrant futures.

Sarah Knuth (Department of Geography, Durham University) 

4 March, 1-2:30pm, Graham Wallas Room (Old Building)
"Rentiers of the Green Economy? Placing Rent in Clean Energy Transition"

Across multiple spheres and spaces today, geographers have argued that contemporary capitalism has become essentially/different/, “increasingly dominated by forms of rentiership rather than entrepreneurship”. Such arguments about the omnipresence of “value-grabbing” and the nature (and tenuous future) of surplus value production in a late capitalist moment, while in need of ongoing critical appraisal, nevertheless suggest a vital lens into a key accumulation frontier now unfolding worldwide: the Anthropocene challenge of clean energy transition, and an unfolding array of strategies to make such a transition pay. In this paper, I consider a distinct set of practices, geographic entanglements, and political questions emerging within such new exploitations of the ‘green economy’. I suggest that this process entails multiple and overlapping forms of rent and rentierism. As ‘green’ entrepreneurs and (neo)rentiers simultaneously expand capitalist frontiers extensively in space and intensively into new /kinds/of spaces, realms, and materials, they are forging new forms of monopoly control over and extractive claims upon land/real property, money, and intellectual property. Such claims and their contestations are critical in ongoing struggles to reimagine a green economy that benefits the many. 

James McCarthy (Graduate School of Geography, Clark University)

18 March, 1-2:30pm, 9.05 FAW / Tower 2
"Renewing accumulation? Political economies and ecologies of renewable energy"

Abstract: A major global shift towards renewable energy is widely seen as an essential, if insufficient, response to the challenges of climate change and transition away from fossil fuels. Interest and investments in, deployments of, and institutionalization of policies regarding renewable energy continue to soar in many countries around the world, in some cases prompting mounting rearguard actions against it from countries and corporations deeply invested in established energy geographies. Surging activity around renewable energy raises a host of questions central to political economy and political ecology:  Can renewable energy can provide a viable basis for the continued expansion of the capitalist economy, and if so, how and at what, and whose, expense? How will growing demands for land for abiotic renewable energy production fit into the contemporary land rush, and into deeper histories of the relationships between land, territory, and accumulation under capitalism? Does a major transition to renewable energy have the potential to alter dominant dynamics of the capitalist economy, or is it more likely to reinscribe them while extending the domain of commodification? This talk will explore these questions through analysis of recent examples of renewable energy initiatives from around the world, drawing from both current literature and original research on the World Bank’s Renewable Energy Resource Mapping Initiative and cases in the contemporary United States.


Michaelmas Term 2018

Dr Malini Ranganathan (American University, School of International Service)

Two events:

8 October 2018, 1-2:30pm, Tower 2, room TW2 9.05
"From Urban Resilience to Abolitionist Climate Justice in Washington, DC"

Paper discussion: in this seminar we will discuss a piece of work in progress that Dr Ranganathan has shared. This paper will be the focus of an organized discussion by faculty and students in attendance. Please RSVP to to receive a copy of the paper in advance.

What do abolitionist sensibilities mean for climate justice? “Resilience” is proposed by experts as a solution for vulnerability to climate change in cities. But this prescription places the burden of “bouncing back” at local scales, subtly validating the processes of racial capitalism that endanger residents in the first place. This research focuses on areas vulnerable to extreme weather events and targeted for resilience enhancements in Washington, DC. After critically reviewing central debates surrounding resilience thinking and applications in DC and drawing from critical race and feminist theories, we argue for an explicitly anti-racist conceptualization of climate justice. This research uses a neighborhood-level survey, archival analysis, oral histories, and interviews to argue that abolitionist climate justice entails the appreciation of historical racism and its afterlives; an understanding of the intersectional drivers of precarity; and the centering of everyday solidarities and the ethics of care of those deemed most at risk to climate change, even if these do not articulate within a liberal environmentalist framework. 

9 October 2018, 4:30pm-6pm, Clement House, room CLM 3.04
“Unauthorized Urbanism: Liberal Property-Making and the Coloniality of Rule”

Why does a city known for its technology-led modernism, its cosmopolitan ethos, and its governance “best practices” continue to be rife with illicit real estate and an uneven political ecology of water and flooding? Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in Bangalore, India, this talk argues that this paradox is rooted in liberal and colonial projects of property-making and the cultivation of proper legal subjects. Well-serviced, formal residential settlement was carved up largely for the economic and cultural elite, a category that shifted according to state priorities from the colonial to neoliberal periods. For the lower middle class and poor, unauthorized urbanism took root as the operating logic that enabled residential settlement. Through this logic, various state forms produce and penalize “unauthorized” urban development in the interest of capitalist accumulation. Today, this logic of unauthorized urbanism is increasingly catering to the global elite at the expense of the lower classes and castes in what can be understood as a new phase of coloniality. The talk discusses emergent activism that entangles anti-corruption with anti-land grabbing, anti-caste, and ecological concerns. It ends by reflecting more broadly on how globally-indexed state restructuring articulates with historical arrangements of class, property, and difference.

Professor Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University, Department of Sociology)

12 November 2018, 1-2:30pm, Tower 2, room TW2 9.05
“DEMAND: Exploring the dynamics of energy, mobility and demand”

This presentation takes stock of some of the ideas and arguments developed in the DEMAND Centre (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand) over the last five years. Research in the DEMAND centre was informed by the core idea that people do not use energy for its own sake but as part of accomplishing social practices at home, at work and in moving around. In this talk I reflect on the experience of developing and promoting such an agenda, and on some of the challenges involved.

Dr Megan Black (LSE, Department of International History)

3 December 2018, 1-2:30pm, 32 Lincoln's Inn Fields, 32L.B.07
“Divided Legacies of the Landsat Satellite: The Origins of a Climate Science Tool in American Mineral Exploits, 1965-1980”

This paper will examine the origins of the Landsat satellite, an earth resource satellite known today for tracking patterns related to climate change, in U.S. mineral pursuits of the late Cold War. In the mid-1960s and during the height of the Space Race, U.S. officials began imagining satellites that could illuminate previously untapped minerals around the world. Landsat was the result. Beginning in the 1970s, it helped some of the world's largest multinational companies extract oil and other minerals  in ways that undercut ongoing conservationist efforts in Third World nations in particular. Throughout, however, the satellites' promoters consistently touted its environmental benefits. What were some of the impacts of the interwoven desires to use a satellite to simultaneously promote American and private interests in extraction and protect the environment on a planetary scale?