Interesting links: June 2015

Regarding climate change, June 2015 is about Pope Francis’ encyclical – see articles in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and Huffington Post.

Next week, 7-10 July, there will be an international scientific conference in Paris, called Our common future under climate change. Follow the conference twitter account @ClimatParis2015 and look at the hashtag #CFCC15.

Watch this short video on Meltwater Pulse 2B, by Peter Sinclair on recent research about Antarctic glacial melting.

Here’s another video, this time a talk by Charles Vörösmarty on Water in the 21st century: Sources of pessimism, sources of optimism (link seen on Jeremy Schmidt’s The Anthropo.Scene).

And then there is a video of a conversation between Ulrich Beck and Bruno Latour on cosmopolitics and re-thinking the nation-state. Beck starts by explaining his idea of metamorphosis, which is the topic of his new book The metamorphosis of the world: How climate change is transforming our concept of the world, to be released in January 2016.

See the call for papers for an international conference on political ecology, called Undisciplined Environments, on 20-23 March 2016. The deadline for submissions is 30 September 2015.

Prof Anna Tsing has a new book out in September, called The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. The write-up on the publisher’s website states: “Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made? A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction. By investigating one of the world’s most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.”

The South African Department of Home Affairs has released a study on the local knowledge associated with the rooibos and honeybush species in South Africa. “The study has revealed that there is no evidence to dispute the claim by the San and the Khoi people of South Africa that they are the rightful holders of traditional knowledge associated with rooibos and honeybush. In light of the finding, the department therefore urges any individual or organisation involved in bioprospecting or biotrade using rooibos and honeybush species to engage with the Khoi and San communities or people to negotiate a benefit sharing agreement in terms of NEMBA and the BABS Regulations.”


Interesting links: November and December 2013

A visit last night by a virtual connection turned real friend inspired me (without any conversation about blogging per se) to book time this weekend to finish some of the half-done postings I have worked on over the December holidays. So, I’ll start with the numerous links I saved over November and December – such links posted on this blog serves as bookmarking of sources and ideas for those working on this project; hopefully others will also find them useful.

On climate change

Towards the end of November 2013, the IPCC released it Fifth Assessment Report on physical sciences; see the whole report in 19 illustrated haiku – clear and to the point. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia produced a video visualising and summarising the findings of the 5ht IPCC physical sciences report – see Climate change and and the state of the science. Joseph Stromberg helps with clarity by writing on the Smithsonian blog about Six things we learned about our changing climate in 2013. In early December 2013 David Keith and Mike Hulme debated on another at Oxford on climate geo-engineering – watch the video of this debate. WIREs Climate Change is an open-access cross-disciplinary journal on climate change, and WIREs Water – coming in 2014, will be the same on the topic of water.

At the American Anthropological Association (AAA) conference in Chicago in 2013, Shirley Fiske and Tony Oliver-Smith, both members of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force, spoke to Anthropology TV about the role of this task force. Another member of this task force, Sarah Strauss, in the December Anthropology News highlighted the work of Cindy Isenhour on climate change and consumer societies. And Jamie Clarke posted on the Global Policy blog that Values, not just science, need to be central to the climate change debate. In a short documentary, Maasai Voice on climate change group of young Maasai pastoralists from Kenya share their perspectives on climate change, whilst in a new book – Media and the politics of Arctic climate change – Annika Nilsson, Miyase Christensen and Nina Wormbs examine new narratives about the Arctic and climate change, indicating what is lost when simple story-lines dominate over the reality of complex, dynamic, interrelated issues. In the December 2013 issue of Anthropological Theory, Jerome Whitington has an article on Fingerprint, bellwether, model event: Climate change as speculative anthropologyYou can read a short excerpt from Rebecca Costa’s book The Watchman’s Rattle on the Mayan civilisation and drought. Lastly, watch the trailer of a new TV series called Years of living dangerously, which will start in April in the US on Showtime – it tells the stories of people touched by climate change.

Years of living dangerously


On systematic review methodology and evidence-based policy
There’s a quick guidebook out by Gough, Oliver and Thomas, called Learning from research: Systematic reviews for informing policy decisions. The same authors published a useful article in Systematic Reviews in 2012 on Clarifying differences between review designs and methods. And then there’s a new book edited by Boland, Cherry and Dickson (all from the University of Liverpool): Doing a systematic review – A student’s guide. In a critical engagement with systematic review methodology, Loevinsohn and colleagues from the IDS did a review of a systematic review of the impact of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions have on child diarrhoea morbidity . Their findings raise questions about the impact pathways used in the systematic review, and contributes to the debate about appropriate methods to evaluate and synthesise evidence on complex interventions.
I’ve come across numerous articles engaging the debate on the nature and usefulness of of evidence-based policy. One is by Nina Vohnsen in Anthropology Today on Evidence-based policy: Some pitfalls in the meeting of scientific research politics. Another is Brain Head’s article, Evidence-based policymaking – Speaking truth to power?, in the November 2013 edition of the Australian Journal of Public Administration, highlighting the relationships between evidence and policy. Oliver and colleagues wrote up A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by policymakers in BMC Health Services Research.  And Ben Taylor has a working paper out on Evidence-based policy and systemic change: Conflicting trends? The abstract states: “Two concurrent but incompatible trends have emerged in development in recent years. Firstly, evidence-based policy and the results agenda have come become ubiquitous amongst government policy-makers in recent years including in development. Secondly, there has been a realisation of the utility of systemic approaches to development policy and programming in order to bring about sustainable change for larger numbers of people. This paper highlights the negative impacts of this former trend on development and, more acutely, its incompatibility with the latter trend. The paper then highlights positive signs of a change in thinking in development that have begun to emerge to lead to a more pragmatic and contextually nuanced approach to measuring progress and identifies the need for further research in this area, calling for evaluation of approaches rather than searching for a silver bullet.” Lastly is Ruth Levitt’s The challenges of evidence.

I did not attend the  2013 conference of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), but did scan #AAA2013 for tweets from there. I was struck by two words: ontology and anthropocene. Below a few links that indicate some of the discussions regarding these ideas, not only at AAA2013 but also wider.


In Cultural Anthropology there is a set of position papers on The politics of ontology. It is from the roundtable discussion at the 2013 AAA meeting in Chicago which explored theoretical positions and methodological projects on the political implications of the ontological ‘turn’ in anthropology. Also read the posting (and the comments) on Savage Minds on Ontology as the major theme of AAA 2013. This debate is not new though – see Ontology is just another word for culture, a debate on a motion table at the 2008 meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory. Also read  Relativism and the ontological turn within Anthropology  by Martin Paleček and Mark Risjord, and Common sense: A review of certain recent reviews of the ‘ontological turn’, by Morten Axel Pedersen. Not on this debate, but related, is Daniel Little writing on his blog Understanding Society about ANT and the philosophy of science.

Be sure you sign in to Bruno Latour and colleagues’s project, An inquiry into modes of existence. Over the next few months I will be reading and engaging with their project, which will frame some of our research project’s questions about the nature of evidence, for whom, for what. You can also register for Latour’s open online course on Scientific Humanities, which starts the 10th of February 2014.

Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour (Source:

And what about listening to Tom Ingold’s lecture, entitled Towards an ecology of materials. The abstract for the lecture is as follows: “Both material culture studies and ecological anthropology are concerned with the material conditions of social and cultural life. Yet despite advances in each of these fields which have eroded traditional divisions between humanistic and science-based approaches, their respective practitioners continue to talk past one another in largely incommensurate theoretical languages. Through a review of recent trends in the study of material culture, the reasons for this are found to lie in: (1) a conception of the material world and the non-human that leaves no space for living organisms; (2) an emphasis on materiality that prioritises finished artefacts over the properties of materials, and (3) a conflation of things with objects that stops up the flows of energy and circulations of materials on which life depends. To overcome these limitations, an ecology of materials is proposed that focuses on their enrolment in form-making processes. The paper concludes with some observations on materials, mind and time.”

On the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene refers to the idea of a new geological era for earth, one formed due to the influence of humans – see the video Welcome to the Anthropocene. Debates on ontology and the Anthropocene is brought together in a conversation between Phillipe Descola and Bruno Latour about approaches to the Anthropocene – see the video of this discussion. And read Descola’s Beyond nature and culture (a review by Des Fitzgerald is here).

Anna Tsing, author of Friction: An ethnography of global connection, has started a new research programme with Niels Bohr, called ‘Living in the Anthropocene’; the website for this project is here. Melissa Leach, the new director of the IDS, gave a talk in Stockholm about Science-governance challenges in the Anthropocene, and you can listen to a keynote speech by Elizabeth A Povinelli on The Anthropocene ProjectA new journal was launched in December 2013, called Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. It publishes “original research reporting new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems during this era of human impacts; feedbacks between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to environmental change”; it’s an open-access journal. And lastly, Tony Turton wrote for Global Dialogue about Water wars in the Anthropocene: A South African perspective.

December being the month that my country’s first black president died, I end my post quoting from a poem by William Ernest Henley called Invictus, which was one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite poems:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.