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.

At present due to the current circumstances, seminars are taking place online via Zoom. The seminars are open to all. If you would like access to any of the upcoming seminars please email

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 organised by Dr Kasia Paprocki ( and Dr Austin Zeiderman ( of the Department of Geography and Environment and Dr Rebecca Elliott ( of the Department of Sociology. Please contact Dr Rebecca Elliott with any questions. Updates can be found on Twitter.

Lent Term 2021

Dr Hannah Knox, Department of Anthropology, UCL
Encountering Climate in Models and Materials

Tuesday 26 January, 1-2:30pm
In this seminar I will present the main argument of my new book, Thinking like a Climate: Governing a City in Times of Environmental Change. Based on ethnographic research that looked at attempts to bring climate science to bear on the governance of cities, the talk focuses on the experience of people living and working in Manchester, UK, and their encounters with the ambivalent materiality of climate models. To understand these encounters I suggest we need to develop an understanding of climate not as a representation of an existing reality but a ‘form of thought’ whose contours are relational, but yet tangible, and whose ramifications are still being worked out. Building on the argument of this book I point to the directions that this research is taking me in now, presenting some nascent ideas about how to continue research in climate-thinking and its world-transforming possibilities. 

Dr Amelia Moore, Department of Marine Affairs, University of Rhode Island
At the Island’s Edge: Living and Learning Within Intersectional Ecologies

Tuesday 16 February, 2-3:30pm

Centred around my experiences as a woman of colour in the American academy, this talk spans eighteen years of research, exploring three projects that have shaped the way I think and work as an anthropologist of the Anthropocene. Studying interdisciplinary conservation science in The Bahamas revealed the contours of the Anthropocene Islands. Working with a coral restoration project in Indonesia made me aware of the techno-politics of witnessing. And learning to look beyond offshore wind farms in order to begin to see the island of Manisses in the state of Rhode Island brought forward collaborations and connections I hadn't known I needed. Today, I am a small part of a network of diverse scholars who argue that we gain analytic and ethical insight from the intersections of theory, history, geography, social difference, ways of knowing, lived experiences, and forms of being. I will conclude by sharing how some of those insights have come to matter for my own situated academic practice.  

Dr Debjani Bhattacharyya, Department of History, Drexel University
Climate Futures’ Past: Insurance, Cyclones and Weather Knowledge in the Indian Ocean World

Tuesday 23 March, 2-3:30pm
What are the historical antecedents to the contemporary financialization of climate threats through carbon markets or greening of asset portfolios? This talk argues for a longer colonial genealogy to the contemporary climate futures market, to show how British imperial expansion in the Indian ocean and the coterminous expansion of premium-based marine insurance shapes how we define weather disturbance and climate threats. Paleo-climatologists documented a spike in severe weather and tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal from the mid 1700s, a period when British Empire vastly expanded in the Indian ocean. Analyzing 18th-century merchants’ papers, Lloyd’s records, navigational journals and insurance cases fought in the marine courts in India and the admiralty courts in London shows that tropical cyclones, instead of becoming limits to be overcome simply through scientific forecasting, were instead financialized and made profitable through a brisk and thriving trade in speculative underwriting. These records reveal that actuarial experiments were not only central for garnering profit from the turbulence of the cyclonic Bay of Bengal but also created a colonial version of a derivatives market in climate futures. Such financialization of “natural limits” simultaneously laid the groundwork for nineteenth century theories of climate disturbance. Bridging histories of finance and Anthropocene scholarship the paper documents how the modalities, concepts and frameworks for producing knowledge about climate emanated out of the very webs of speculative finance, insurance and trade that enveloped the globe during this period. I conclude by arguing that turning to the Indian Ocean helps us understand how this space faced with the exigencies of global trade became a laboratory of actuarial experiments and weather knowledge production. It also allows us to identify a longer genealogy that shows that the very structures of climate knowledge-making based on ideas of profitability and the overcoming of ecological (and currently biospheric) limits is not simply a neoliberal story but were being scripted in the colonies from the latter half of the eighteenth-century.

Summer Term 2021

Dr Jesse M. Keenan, Tulane University School of Architecture
The (Applied) Epistemology of Resilience and Adaptation

4 May 2021, 2-3:30pm GMT

This lecture maps out the emerging transdisciplinary field of adaptation science, including an exploration of the allied concepts of adaptation, resilience and risk mitigation. In particular, this lecture seeks to provide insight on the categorical variants of resilience and the extent to which these variants possess their own conceptual and analytical prowess. From here, resilience is understood not as a singular concept but a collection of concepts that have divergent meanings and applications that reinforce the necessity to understand subjective trade-offs that vary according to stakeholder orientation, time horizon, the distribution of associated costs and benefits, and the extent to which there may be both adaptive and maladaptive outcomes. In this regard, resilience and adaptation are referenced as complex processes and not outcomes that represent absolute and universal goods. The lecture will conclude with how these diverse concepts are being applied in the United States at both the federal and state-level climate policy.  


Past Seminars

Michaelmas Term 2020

Professor J. Timmons Roberts, Department of Sociology and Institute at Brown for Environment & Society, Brown University 

Tuesday 13 October, 1-2:30pm, Zoom

The New U.S. Climate Battleground: Actors and Coalitions in the States


Professor James R. Elliott, Department of Sociology, Rice University

Tuesday 10 November, 4-5:30pm, Zoom

Damages Done: The Long-Term Impacts of Rising Disaster Costs on Wealth Inequality


Professor Veronica Strang, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University

Tuesday 1 December, 1-2:30pm, Zoom

Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Current Environmental Crisis


Summer Term 2020

Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK; Visiting Professor, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

June 8 (1-2:30pm U.K. time)

The politics of climate change, uncertainty and transformation in marginal environments


Lent Term 2020

Professor Andrea Nightingale, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

January 27 (1-2:30pm)

Unruly landscapes of environmental change: imagining a future Himalaya

Professor Miriam Greenberg, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Cruz

17 February 2020 (1-2:30pm)

The Housing/Habitat Project: Tracing Impacts of the Affordability Crisis in the Wildlands of Exurban California


Michaelmas Term 2019

Dr Gökçe Günel, Department of Anthropology, Rice University 

21 October (6-7:30pm) 

Book Launch: Spaceship in the Desert


Professor Paige West, Department of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University 

4 November (1-2:30pm)

A prayer for the world: Climate change, engaged scholarship and writing the future


Dr Daniel Aldana Cohen, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

11 November (1-2:30pm)

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


Dr Andrew Curley, Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

2 December (1-2:30pm)

What is a Resource Curse?: Energy, infrastructure, colonialism, and climate change in Native North America


Summer Term 2019

Dr Nayanika Mathur, Department of School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, Oxford

13 May, 1-2:30pm

Crooked Cats: Human-Big Cat Entanglements in the Anthropocene


Lent Term 2019

Dr Jesse Goldstein, Department of Sociology, Virginia Commonwealth University

4 February, 1-2:30pm

From Planetary Improvement to Energy Abolition: Against and beyond the Transparent Energy of Whiteness


Dr Sarah Knuth, Department of Geography, Durham University

4 March, 1-2:30pm

Rentiers of the Green Economy? Placing Rent in Clean Energy Transition


Professor James McCarthy, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University

18 March, 1-2:30pm

Renewing accumulation? Political economies and ecologies of renewable energy


Michaelmas Term 2018

Dr Malini Ranganathan, School of International Service, American University

8 October, 1-2:30pm

From Urban Resilience to Abolitionist Climate Justice in Washington, DC


Professor Elizabeth Shove, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

12 November, 1-2:30pm

DEMAND: Exploring the dynamics of energy, mobility and demand


Dr Megan Black, Department of International History, LSE

3 December, 1-2:30pm

Divided Legacies of the Landsat Satellite: The Origins of a Climate Science Tool in American Mineral Exploits, 1965-1980


Summer Term 2018

Dr Anne Rademacher, Program in Environmental Studies and Department of Anthropology, New York University

2 May, 4:30-6pm

Building Green: Forging Environmental Futures in Mumbai


Dr Liz Koslov, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

4 June, 4:30-6pm

The Fight for Retreat: Urban Unbuilding in the Era of Climate Change