Communicating Climate Knowledge: Proxies, Processes, Politics

Hildegard Diemberger, Kirsten Hastrup, Simon Schaffer, Charles F. Kennel, David Sneath, Michael Bravo, Hans-F. Graf, Jacqueline Hobbs, Jason Davis, Maria Luisa Nodari, Giorgio Vassena, Richard Irvine, Christopher Evans, Marilyn Strathern, Mike Hulme, Georg Kaser and Barbara Bodenhorn
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. 2 (April 2012), pp. 226-244
DOI: 10.1086/665033
Stable URL:
Page Count: 19
  • Download PDF
  • Cite this Item

You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

Communicating Climate Knowledge
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


This forum article is the product of interdisciplinary discussion at a conference on climate histories held in Cambridge, United Kingdom, in early 2011, with the specific aim of building a network around the issue of communicating cultural knowledge of environmental change. The lead articles, by Kirsten Hastrup as an anthropologist and Simon Schaffer as a historian of science, highlight the role of agents and proxies. These are followed by five interdisciplinary commentaries, which engage with the lead articles through new ethnographic material, and a set of shorter commentaries by leading scholars of different disciplines. Finally, the lead authors respond to the discussion. In this debate, climate change does not emerge as a single preformed “problem.” Rather, different climate knowledges appear as products of particular networks and agencies. Just as the identification of proxies creates agents (ice, mountains, informants) by inserting them into new networks, we hope that these cross-disciplinary exchanges will produce further conversations and new approaches to action.

Notes and References

This item contains 83 references.

References Cited
  • ['Adams, Douglas. 1987. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. London: Heinemann.']
  • ['Altick, Richard D. 1978. The shows of London. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Appadurai, Arjun, ed. 1986. The social life of things: commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Bigg, Charlotte. 2007. The panorama, or la nature à coup d’oeil. In Observing Nature—representing experience: the osmotic dynamics of romanticism 1800–1850. Erna Fiorentini, ed. Pp. 73–95. Berlin: Reimer.']
  • ['Bigg, Charlotte, David Aubin, and Philipp Felsch, eds. 2009. The laboratory of Nature: science in the mountains. Thematic issue, Science in Context 22(3).']
  • ['Bloom, Alan. 1944. The farm in the fen. London: Faber & Faber.']
  • ['Bravo, Michael T. 2010. Epilogue: the humanism of sea-ice. In SIKU: knowing our ice. Igor Krupnik, Claudio Aporta, Shari Gearheard, Gita J. Laidler, and Lene Kielsen Holm, eds. Pp. 445–452. New York: Springer.']
  • ['Burford, Robert, and H. C. Selous. 1850. Description of summer and winter views of the polar regions as seen during the expedition of Capt. James Clark Ross, Kt., F.R.S. in 1848–9, now exhibiting at the Panorama, Leicester Square. London: W. J. Golbourn.']
  • ['Callon, Michel, Pierre Lascoumes, and Yannick Barthe. 2001. Agir dans un monde incertain: essai sur la démocratie technique. Paris: Seuil.']
  • ['Club Alpino Italiano, ed. 2008. Dossier sul climate change. Milan: Club Alpino Italiano.']
  • ['Collis, Christy, and Klaus Dodds. 2008. Assault on the unknown: the historical and political geographies of the International Geophysical Year (1957–8). Journal of Historical Geography 34(4):555–573.']
  • ['Cruikshank, Julie. 2005. Do glaciers listen? local knowledge, colonial encounters, and social imagination. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.']
  • ['———. 2007. Melting glaciers and emerging histories in the Saint Elias Mountains. In Indigenous experience today. Marisol de la Cadena and Orin Starn, eds. Pp. 355–378. Oxford: Berg.']
  • ['Cui, Xuefeng, Hans-F. Graf, Baerbel Langmann, Wen Chen, and Ronghui Huang. 2006. Climate impacts of anthropogenic land use changes on the Tibetan Plateau. Global and Planetary Change 54(1–2):33–56.']
  • ['de Filippi, Filippo, ed. 1908. Il Rwenzori: viaggio di esplorazione e prime ascensioni. Milan: Hoepli.']
  • ['Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. A thousand plateaus. Brian Massumi, trans. London: Continuum.']
  • ['Dettelbach, Michael. 1996. Humboldtian science. In Cultures of natural history. Nick Jardine, Jim Secord, and Emma Spary, eds. Pp. 287–304. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Diemberger, Hildegard. Forthcoming. Deciding the future in the Land of Snow: Tibet as an arena for conflicting knowledge and policies. In The social life of climate models: anticipating Nature. Kirsten Hastrup and Martin Skrydstrup, eds. London: Routledge.']
  • ['Dugdale, William. 1662. The history of imbanking and draining of divers fenns and marshes. London: Alice Warren.']
  • ['Ehkers, Eckart, and Thomas Kraft, eds. 2006. Earth systems science in the Anthropocene. New York: Springer.']
  • ['Elbstobb, William. 1793. An historical account of the great level of the fens. London: Crowder.']
  • ['Ennion, E. A. R. 1949. Adventurers Fen. Revised and enlarged edition. London: Herbert Jenkins.']
  • ['Evans, Christopher. 1997. Sentimental prehistories: the construction of the Fenland past. Journal of European Archaeology 5(2):105–136.']
  • ['Evans, Christopher, and Ian Hodder. 2006a. Marshland communities and cultural landscape: the Haddenham Project. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.']
  • ['———. 2006b. A woodland archaeology: Neolithic sites at Haddenham. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.']
  • ['Fleming, James Rodger. 1998. Historical perspectives on climate change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Forbes, James. 1846. Illustrations of the viscous theory of glacier motion. Part III. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 136:177–210.']
  • ['Galison, Peter, and Alexi Assmus. 1989. Artificial clouds, real particles. In The uses of experiment. David Gooding, Trevor Pinch, and Simon Schaffer, eds. Pp. 225–274. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Godwin, Harry. 1978. Fenland: its ancient past and uncertain future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Graf, Hans-F., Tobias Gerken, Wolfgang Babel, Tobias Biermann, Alex Hoffman, Michael Herzog, Yaoming Ma, and Thomas Foken. 2011. Boundary-layer structure and turbulent fluxes above the Tibetan Plateau. Paper presented at the 7th Sino-German workshop on Tibetan Plateau research, Hamburg, March 2–6.']
  • ['Hacking, Ian. 1990. The complacent disciplinarian. (accessed September 21, 2011).']
  • ['Hall, David N. and John M. Coles. 1994. The Fenland Survey: an essay in landscape and persistence. London: English Heritage.']
  • ['Harris, R. B. 2010. Rangeland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau: a review of the evidence of its magnitude and causes. Journal of Arid Environments 74(1):1–12.']
  • ['Hastrup, Kirsten. 2009a. Arctic hunters: climate variability and social mobility. In The question of resilience: social responses to climate change. Kirsten Hastrup, ed. Pp. 245–270. Copenhagen: Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.']
  • ['———. 2009b. The nomadic landscape: people in a changing Arctic environment. Danish Journal of Geography 109(2):181–190.']
  • ['———. 2010. Emotional topographies: the sense of place in the Far North. In Emotions in the field. James Davies and Dimitrina Spencer, eds. Pp. 191–211. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.']
  • ['———. Forthcoming. Anticipation on thin ice: diagrammatic reasoning among Arctic hunters. In The social life of climate models: anticipating Nature. Kirsten Hastrup and Martin Skrydstrup, eds. London: Routledge.']
  • ['Heckenberger, Michael J. 2005. The ecology of power: culture, place and personhood in the southern Amazon, A.D. 1000–2000. London: Routledge.']
  • ['Hevly, Bruce. 1996. The heroic science of glacier motion. Osiris 11:66–86.']
  • ['Heymann, Matthias. 2010. The evolution of climate ideas and knowledge. WIREs Climate Change 1(4):581–597.']
  • ['Hill, Polly. 1992. Who were the Fen People? Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 81:97–114.']
  • ['Hoffecker, John F. 2005. A prehistory of the North: human settlements of the higher latitudes. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.']
  • ['Howard, Jill. 2004. “Physics and fashion”: John Tyndall and his audiences in mid-Victorian Britain. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 35(4):729–758.']
  • ['Huber, Toni, and Poul Pedersen. 1997. Meteorological knowledge and environmental ideas in traditional and modern societies: the case of Tibet. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 3(3):577–598.']
  • ['Hulme, Mike. 2009a. On the origins of the greenhouse effect: John Tyndall and the interrogation of nature. Weather 64(5):121–123.']
  • ['———. 2009b. Why we disagree about climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Humboldt, Alexander von. 1849. Cosmos, vol. 2. Elise C. Otté, trans. London: Bohn.']
  • ['Ingold, Tim, and Terhi Kurttila. 2000. Perceiving the environment in Finnish Lapland. Body and Society 6(3–4):183–196.']
  • ['Kaser, Georg, Andrew Fountain, and Peter Jansson. 2003. A manual for monitoring the mass balance of mountain glaciers. Technical Documents in Hydrology 59. Paris: UNESCO.']
  • ['Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['———. 2009. Will non-humans be saved? an argument in ecotheology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15(3):459–475.']
  • ['Lovelock, James. 2007. Climate change on a living Earth. Address to the Royal Society, October 29. (accessed January 25, 2011).']
  • ['———. 2009. Through Gaian eyes. In Ideas: in the name of science. David Cayley, ed. Pp. 109–128. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane.']
  • ['———. 2010. Fudging data is a sin against science. The Guardian, March 29, 2010. (accessed March 31, 2010).']
  • ['Lucas, Charles. 1930. The fenman’s world. London: Jarrold.']
  • ['Lynge, Aqqaluk. 2009. Strengthening culture through change: will climate change strengthen or destroy us? Address to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society at the University of Edinburgh, October 19. (accessed December 9, 2011).']
  • ['Macfarlane, Robert. 2004. Mountains of the mind: a history of a fascination. London: Granta.']
  • ['Magistro, John, and Carla Roncoli. 2001. Anthropological perspectives and policy implications of climate change research. Climate Research 19(2):91–96.']
  • ['Marshall, Sybil. 1967. Fenland chronicle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Massey, Doreen. 2005. For space. London: Sage.']
  • ['Mölg, Thomas, Christian Georges, and Georg Kaser. 2003. The contribution of increased incoming shortwave radiation to the retreat of the Rwenzori glaciers, East Africa, during the 20th century. International Journal of Climatology 23(3):291–303.']
  • ['Nuttall, Mark. 2009. Living in a world of movement: human resilience to environmental instability in Greenland. In Anthropology and climate change: from encounters to actions. Susan A. Crate and Mark Nuttall, eds. Pp. 292–310. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast.']
  • ['Orlove, Ben, Ellen Wiegandt, and Brian Luckman. 2008. Darkening peaks: glacier retreat, science and society. Berkeley: University of California Press.']
  • ['Reidy, Michael. 2010. John Tyndall’s vertical physics: from rock quarries to icy peaks. Physics in Perspective 12(2):122–145.']
  • ['Rink, Hinrich. 1974 (1877). Danish Greenland, its people and products. London: Hurst.']
  • ['Roccati, Alessandro. 1909. Il Ruwenzori: relazioni scientifiche. Milan: Hoepli.']
  • ['Rudwick, Martin. 2005. Bursting the limits of time: the reconstruction of geohistory in the age of revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.']
  • ['Sass-Klaassen, Ute, and Elsemieke Hanraets. 2006. Woodlands of the past—the excavation of wetland woods at Zwolle-Stadshagen (the Netherlands): growth pattern and population dynamics of oak and ash. Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 85(1):61–71.']
  • ['Seiz, Gabriela, and Nando Foppa. 2007. The activities of the World Glacier Monitoring Service. Report of the Swiss Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology. Zürich: MeteoSchweiz.']
  • ['Shapin, Steven. 2004. The way we trust now: the authority of science and the character of the scientist. In Trust me, I’m a scientist. Rosemary Bechler, ed. Pp. 42–63. London: British Council.']
  • ['Sinha, Ashish, Lowell Stott, Max Berkelhammer, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, Brendan Buckley, Mark Aldenderfer, and Manfred Mudelsee. 2010. A global context for megadroughts in monsoon Asia during the past millennium. Quaternary Science Reviews 30(1–2):47–62.']
  • ['Smiraglia, Claudio, Christoph Mayer, Claudia Mihalcea, Guglielmina Diolaiuti, Marco Belò, and Giorgio Vassena. 2007. Ongoing variations of Himalayan and Karakoram glaciers as witnesses of global changes: recent studies of selected glaciers. In Mountains: witnesses of global changes. Research in the Himalaya and Karakoram: SHARE-Asia Project. Renato Baudo, Gianni Tartari, and Elisa Vuillermoz, eds. Pp. 235–248. Amsterdam: Elsevier.']
  • ['Smith, Pamela Jane. 1997. Grahame Clark’s new archaeology: the Fenland Research Committee and Cambridge prehistory in the 1930s. Antiquity 71(271):11–30.']
  • ['Sneath, David. 1998. State policy and pasture degradation. Science 281(5380):1147–1148.']
  • ['Sörlin, Sverker. 2009. Narratives and counter-narratives of climate change: North Atlantic glaciology and meteorology, c. 1930–1955. Journal of Historical Geography 35(2):237–255.']
  • ['Sörlin, Sverker, and Paul Warde, eds. 2009. Nature’s end: history and the environment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.']
  • ['Swindles, Graeme T., and Gill Plunkett. 2010. Testing the paleoclimatic significance of the Northern Irish bog oak record. The Holocene 20(2):155–159.']
  • ['Turnbull, David. 2003. Masons, tricksters and cartographers. London: Routledge.']
  • ['Tyndall, John. 1859. On the transmission of heat of different qualities through gases of different kinds. Notices of the Proceedings of the Royal Institution 3:155–158.']
  • ['———. 1860. The glaciers of the Alps. London: J. Murray.']
  • ['———. 1872. Contributions to molecular physics in the domain of radiant heat. London: Longmans, Green.']
  • ['Waller, Martyn. 1994. The Fenland Project, issue 9: Flandrian environmental change in Fenland. East Anglian Archaeology 70. Cambridge: Cambridgeshire Archaeological Committee.']
  • ['Yeh, Emily T. 2005. Green governmentality and pastoralism in western China: “converting pastures to grasslands.” Nomadic Peoples 9(1–2):9–30.']