Background – University of Copenhagen

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When natural environmental disaster strikes or gradually grows upon particular places we are potentially faced with humanitarian challenges that transcend received notions of cultures, nations or even regions. This has significant theoretical and methodological implications for an environmental anthropology, which can no longer operate within bounded entities or localities as before. The human-environment system has become recognised as extremely complex and incorporating multi-scalar phenomena. Consequently, well-established notions of sustainability, adaptation and vulnerability need rethinking.

Taking climate induced environmental disaster as its point of departure, the ambition is both to take anthropology to a new level of sophistication in dealing with this new complexity, and to facilitate new modes of urgent interdisciplinary research. An important step in this direction lies in the effort at explicating the various scales - temporal and spatial - implied in particular analyses, and in exposing the incongruity of scales belonging to different registers. A new awareness of the processes of scale-making in any production of knowledge is urgent in the interest of interdisciplinary cooperation and exchange.

To enable a new and more appropriate understanding of social resilience, the possibly incongruous scales must be taken into account. In the interest of understanding how far the social capacity for reorientation may be stretched in times of pending environmental disaster and uncertainty, this incongruity makes new demands on conceptual precision. In this proposal, we focus on four sets of queries, apparently concerning four different scales of social reality, but closely interwoven and interdependent in any assessment of social resilience at present times.

With a view to the themes of global entanglement, regions of disaster, perforated local environments, and intensified temporalities of forecasting, the project seeks to fulfil its theoretical ambition on the basis of extensive fieldwork in the new regions of disaster that emerge from current climate changes and their effects on the flow of water. While the regions are analytically connected through the shared focus on water-related calamities, they can be empirically separated by different dominant themes of concern.