Andrew Mathews co-authors article on the contributions of anthropology to understanding climate change

SJRC Director Andrew Mathews contributed to a recently published Perspectives piece in Nature Climate Change (pdf here) detailing how anthropologists can contribute to understanding the social and political dynamics of climate change. In this piece, Barnes et al. identify three types of insights anthropologists are well suited to provide.

First, the discipline draws attention to the cultural values and political relations that shape climate-related knowledge creation and interpretation and that form the basis of responses to continuing environmental changes. These insights come from the in-depth fieldwork that has long been the hallmark of anthropology. The second contribution is an awareness of the historical context underpinning contemporary climate debates — a result of archaeologists’ and environmental anthro- pologists’ interest in the history of society–environment interactions. The third is anthropology’s broad, holistic view of human and natural systems, which highlights the multiple cultural, social, political and economic changes that take place in our societies. Societal dynamics, as drivers of change, always interact with, and often outweigh, climate change — an issue that needs recognition for the success of public policies.

The authors note the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration that Science & Justice has also worked to address. Varied temporal and geographic scales, differing approaches to qualitative and quantitative work, and contrasting commitments of the values of specificity and generalization for understanding phenomena can sometimes put social and natural sciences at cross purposes. However, when gathered around shared and pressing problems, the friction between disciplines can be made productive rather than detrimental or competitive. They write,

Ever more serious challenges to scientific understandings of climate change and policy responses — in both domestic and international political arenas — make the climate science and policy community more open to inputs from the social sciences. This Perspective argues that anthropology could play a central role in this, by offering methods to access the social, cultural and political processes that shape climate debates. Just as anthropologists can learn from climate science about the changing environmental conditions we live in, so too can climate scientists learn from anthropological research.

Science & Justice aims to foster just such cross-disciplinary collaboration and literacy, bringing together multiple forms of expertise to address major problems in contemporary science and technology.

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