Keynote presentations​


Lenore Manderson

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Agility and the Possible: Art, science and the challenges of a warming world

Current disasters associated with climate change are a presage of an ultimate disaster, and uniquely, broad fields of scholarship, of very different kinds, need to interact to understand global warming as an event, and to avert continuing and escalating catastrophe. The repudiation of scientific research on climate and global temperature rise, and the political agendas that lie behind this, highlight the challenges of scientists in influencing policy and diverse publics. For the past five years, I have curated and produced an art/science program — Earth, Itself (2015-2019) at Brown University in the US, and Watershed (2018) at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa — to bring scholars from the planetary sciences, geology, evolutionary biology, the social and policy sciences, and humanities into conversations with practicing artists. The aim was not collaboration – although in some cases this was the outcome – but to encourage dialogue, widen the debate, and reflect on ways to access diverse publics. In beginning this program, I have found inspiration in using early understandings of earth systems and bodies across cultures, time and place, in relation to the elements (and so: earth/dance, air/music, fire/the fire arts, water/text). In this lecture, I will turn to art works produced within these programs to illustrate how art can change perception and create a sense of possibility. Using video clips, sound bites, stills and text to illustrate the creative research practice of artists, I explore how this contributes to eliciting a sense of commitment and so identify practical interventions to head off disaster.

Claire Horwell

Durham University and Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, UK

Converging and diverging: Challenges and rewards of inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations in disaster health research.

Volcanic eruptions are unique in the multitude of primary and secondary hazards generated, which can impact on communities, causing disasters of unexpected scales, or health effects which may be latent for decades and only affect the most susceptible. The tsunami from Anak Krakatau’s sector collapse in December 2018 was predicted by scientists but unanticipated by hazard managers and the affected communities, despite its parent volcano having killed more than 30,000 people in 1883. At the other end of the scale, health impacts are widely anticipated from eruptions, and reported in the media, but are challenging to prove by standard epidemiological investigations, leaving us uncertain as to the actual risk posed by inhaling volcanic emissions, even after 40 years of research. The ability for hazard managers to work to mitigate the phenomena, therefore helping to protect local communities, and the ability for disaster managers to assist in the return to a resilient state depends on both the communities’ and agencies’ understanding of the phenomena with which they are confronted, and the cultural influences which might support or hamper development. To overcome these challenges necessitates a special collaboration between communities, volcanologists, social scientists, medical experts, and the agencies responsible for civil protection. Yet these different actors rarely come together effectively in a crisis setting, and often speak different languages (both geographical and disciplinary) so the process of initiating and nurturing such relationships must start long before eruption onset. Failure to converge, collaborate and communicate can lead to disasters which should be avoidable in 2019.

Vinh-Kim Nguyen

The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland

Anthropological approaches to emergencies and disasters: Recent findings from current conflicts and on-going epidemics

This talk will explore anthropological perspectives on emergencies and disasters based on field research in two sites: the current conflict in the Middle East and the 2019 Ebola epidemic in the DRC. The presentation draws on empirical work to explore the distinction between “applied” and varieties of “critical” anthropology, before examining key theories which have been used to explain why emergencies and disasters are key to understanding broader social phenomena and underlying political logics. Three perspectives will be contrasted using empirical examples: the idea of emergency as a constitutional moment for founding political order through a “state of exception”; the notion of humanitarian reason, and the technical and “experimental” potential of humanitarian disasters.

Amir AghaKouchak

The University of California, Irvine, USA

Compound and concurrent climate extremes in a warming climate: Modeling and risk analysis

Human activities in the past century have caused an increase in global temperature. Ground-based observations show a substantial increase in extreme rainfall events, hot spells and heatwaves. A combination of climate events (e.g., low precipitation and high temperatures) may cause a significant impact on the ecosystem and society, although individual events involved may not be severe extremes themselves – a notion known as compound event/extremes. Numerous studies have focused on how different types of extremes have changed or might change in the future. However, only few studies have addressed changes in compound and concurrent events. This presentation focuses on three different types of concurrent and compound extremes including drought-heatwaves, sea level rise-terrestrial flooding, and meteorological-anthropogenic drought. We present different methodological frameworks and data science techniques for detecting, modeling and risk assessment of concurrent and compound extremes using ground-based and remote sensing observations.