Another Skin: Climate Adaptation and Accountability

Friday, April 29, 2022 - 3:00pm

Seminar in Critical Development Studies hosted by Cornell Global Development and the Graduate Field of Development Sociology

Speaker: Sarah E. Vaughn, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

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? I address 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 I 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, I argue 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, I present a case study of Guyana to explore how climate adaptation projects shape processes of racialization, while offering a space to imagine alternative modes of accountability and planetary engagement. 

About the speaker:

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 advances understandings of climate change in the Circum-Caribbean while tracking the affective, ethical, and political components of dignity and belonging.  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.  She is affiliated with the Center for Science, Technology and Medicine, The Program in Critical Theory, and the Program in Development Engineering.