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 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 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), Zoom link available here

Please note the Zoom link is password protected. If you would like access to the seminar please email

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

The scale and impacts of climate change remain deeply uncertain. This is particularly true at the local level, where climate related uncertainties combined with unequal capitalist growth trajectories often exacerbate social and political inequities and the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities. Policy makers and scientists tend to draw on quantitative assessments, models and scenario building to understand and capture uncertainty. But these are often disconnected from how local people – particularly those living at the margins – make sense of and cope with uncertainty. This paper focuses on diverse and contested framings of climate change and uncertainty in  three sites in South Asia  (dryland Kutch, the Sundarbans delta  and coastal Mumbai). It looks at how uncertainty is understood and experienced from ‘below’ by the lived experiences of local people, how it is conceptualised and represented from ‘above’ by climate scientists and experts and how the ‘middle’ - civil society, NGOs, academics - can potentially function as brokers between the ‘below’ and ‘above’. Uncertainty can be epistemic, ontological and linked to broader political economy conditions.  Often official efforts to deal with uncertainty are highly policiticised and can increase the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups. While uncertainty can lead to anxieties about the future, I conclude by exploring whether it can also provide an opportunity to create transformation and structural change in marginal environments characterised by climate related uncertainties.

Lent Term 2020

Professor Andrea Nightingale, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo
January 27 (1-2:30pm), Graham Wallas Room

Unruly landscapes of environmental change: imagining a future Himalaya

Attempts at governing ecological crises are just that: attempts. Life is far too unruly to quietly acquiesce to control and management raising uncomfortable questions about how to respond to current anxieties about anticipating the future. By starting from the unruliness and uncontrollability of life, this paper explores the continuous (re)configurations of humans and non-humans required to accomplish governing through conceptual ideas of boundary making. A focus on boundary making helps create new insights into the complex, often unpredictable political, social, cultural and ecological terrains that result in order to contribute towards a posthuman ethics of environmental governance. Drawing from scholars of science and political ecologists who have long pointed out that knowing is not somehow separate from the worlds we create, and feminist work on power and recognition, the paper looks at how boundary making reflects the operation of power across scales. It shows how environmental change programs are caught up in the riotous, inadvertent contradictions of environmental governance. Action, imagination, naming, and everyday practices create lasting connections; they bring the world into being in a continuous and dynamic manner demanding that we develop a more than human ethics. Using a case study of Nepal, the paper works through the entanglements of forests, user-groups, geopolitics and efforts at responding to predictions of calamitous change to show how they are complicit in producing the dilemmas we face.


Professor Miriam Greenberg, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Cruz
17 February 2020 (1-2:30pm), FAW 9.05

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

The recent increase in wildfires in California has raised awareness of the dangerous spread of housing development at the Wildlands Urban Interface [WUI], and how this interacts with extreme weather events caused by climate change. Yet in addition to fire, growing exurban housing development and the infrastructure it requires have caused a range of social and ecological impacts over recent years, including the loss and fragmentation of habitat for wildlife. In this talk I discuss a new research project bringing together scholars in urban and environmental studies to understand these dynamics and a little-understood driver of them: California’s affordable housing crisis. Using the region surrounding Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz as case study, we will first explore how unaffordability and exclusionary housing policies in core urban areas have displaced people to cheaper, sprawled developments in remote, less regulated exurbs, including in rural areas and the WUI. We will then address the social and ecological impacts of this exurban development. Alongside environmental justice implications for “extreme commuters” now living in harm’s way, this includes increasing habitat fragmentation for native species like mountain lions, which depend upon large, continuous ranges to maintain biodiversity.  In short, the project looks at how crises for ‘housing and habitat’ evolved and may now be interacting with each other.  In so doing, it aims to highlight the complex interactions between the “3 E’s” of equity, ecology, and economy under conditions of market-oriented urbanization; bridge often separate literatures in housing studies, urban political ecology, and conservation biology; and inform public policy and political movements aiming for housing, transportation, and multi-species justice within sustainable urban regions.

Professor Sarah Bracking, Department of Geography, King’s College London


Processes of environmental valuation, climate change mitigation and insurance

There have been many attempts to apply financial calculations to the more-than-human and environmental externalities of capital since the 1990s, but most have proved partial and incomplete as humans have struggled to find calculative logics which can underpin financialisation processes at frontiers with the natural world. While the animism of the more-than-human has combined with specific human agents to resist financialisation, pressures from capital-holders to create income and rents from other species and their habitats has continued in a sequence of largely unsatisfactory experiments. This paper explores the financialisation experiments attempted at the environmental frontier, alongside resistances that have been both innate and intended, where capitalist financial valuation meets other species and plants, with a particular focus on recent initiatives in climate change mitigation and insurance.