Another Skin: Climate Adaptation and Accountability
January 31, 2023
Life in the Anthropocene is structured by racial hierarchies, even as people recognize the obstacles racial thinking poses to surviving climate change. This tension begs the question: How do race and climate change interact with one another, and why does it matter? Sarah E. Vaughn addresses this question by analyzing the ways people talk about race, and in many cases–avoid the subject entirely–in order to make sense of what climate adaptation projects can offer them. It is informed by ethnography, interviews, and archival research she conducted between 2009 and 2019 as the coastal South American nation-state Guyana, embarked on the climate adaptation of its large earthen dam system.
Attending to the intensified but uncertain dynamics of climatic threats, she argues that both engineers and ordinary citizens share a loss of confidence in race as an organizing principle of daily life. Yet because climate adaptation intervenes across spatial-temporal scales, it requires that they address experiences of racialized belonging as much as injustice. To this end, Vaughn presents a case study of Guyana to explore how climate adaptation projects shape the process of racialization, while offering a space to imagine alternative modes of accountability and planetary engagement.
Sarah E. Vaughn is an anthropologist working at the intersection of environmental anthropology, critical social theory, and science and technology studies. She received her B.A. in 2006 from Cornell University and was awarded a Ph.D. in 2013 from Columbia University. Her research agenda entails developing an ethnographic approach and critical social theory of climate adaptation. At stake in her research are questions about the role climate change has in shaping technological systems, an ethics of (re)distribution, and narrative form. Her book Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation is the winner of the American Anthropological Association’s 2022 Julian Steward Award. She teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.
Emma Shaw Crane is a scholar of race, sub/urban space, and U.S. empire in the Americas. Her book manuscript in-progress explores the long afterlives of counterinsurgent war in a peripheral suburb of Miami, Florida, home to a military base, a detention camp for migrant children, and agricultural economies sustained by migrant and refugee labor. Emma’s work has been published in Antipode, Society & Space, and Urban Studies. She is the co-editor, with Ananya Roy, of Territories of Poverty: Rethinking North and South, published by the University of Georgia Press. She is currently a Fellow in the Society of Fellows.
Climate Futures/Climate Justice is an interdisciplinary event series exploring the relationship between climate justice, carbon tech, and climate futures. Climate scientists, engineers, anthropologists, geographers, science studies scholars, political ecologists, legal scholars, and historians connect to discuss justice-centered climate futures and engage defining issues of the carbon tech/climate justice nexus.