THE PROJECT IS CLOSED
Project period: 2009-2014
The ambition of the research project was to study local, social responses to environmental disasters related to water, as spurred by the melting of ice in the Arctic and in mountainous glacier areas, the rising of seas that flood islands and coastal communities across the globe, and the drying of lands accelerating desertification in large parts of Africa and elsewhere. The aim was to contribute to a renewed theory of social resilience that builded on the actualities of social life in distinct localities, thus focussing on human agency as the basis for people's quest for certainty in exposed environments.
The present times are haunted by a sense of vulnerability in the face of major environmental disasters and global climate change. Whatever course and speed the current changes may accrue, their effects on the human world are already manifest. People suffer from a loss of habitual natural resources, from fear of an increasingly unpredictable nature, and from social disruptions as natural habitats are destroyed.
Water is the most vital natural resource; it is the sine qua non of human life. Yet, excess or shortage of water may threaten that very life, and the current destabilisation of the balance between too much and too little water poses new and significant challenges to the social and human sciences, wanting to understand and mitigate the disastrous effects of global climate change as experienced.
The Waterworlds project had a double empirical and theoretical ambition. Empirically it contributed a substantial ethnographic supplement to the sweeping diagnoses of the global malaises captured in notions like 'global warming'. Theoretically, the project allowed a new, general understanding of the effects of environmental disaster on social life and organisation, and of the responsibility that people took locally to ensure the survival of their community. New concepts was also developed that facilitated interdisciplinary research across differentiated scales of understanding.
Risks related to climate change are unevenly distributed. The global climate change therefore results in new patterns of regional migration, political unrest, economic vulnerability, shifting resource bases, and a profound sense of risk affecting everyday life in many parts of the world. The aim of the research project was to explore how people deal with such uncertainty. Through detailed anthropological studies of distinct localities and strategies of protection, the project seeked to enhance the general understanding of living in an environment at risk. This was urgent in the interest of understanding how far the social capacity for adaptation may be stretched in times of pending environmental disaster. It was also pertinent with respect to basic issues of local food security that may all too easily transform into problems of international security. In the process have identified thresholds of flexibility.
For the project to enable a meaningful comparison of how people dealt with disaster, the cases chosen were all related directly to environmental issues and were of the same scale:
The melting ice in the Arctic and in glacier-covered mountains elsewhere threatens age-old ways of living and moving within the landscape;
The rising seas, potentially flooding islands and coastal communities, and correlated with an intensified cyclone activity;
The drying lands in already arid regions entail hunger, displacement of people and political instability that transform global disaster to local humanitarian catastrophe.
The Research Team
Team leader (PI), Kirsten Hastrup
The Melting Ice
Mattias Borg Rasmussen
The Rising Seas
Mette Fog Olwig
The Drying Lands
Jonas Østergaard Nielsen
Researchers affiliated with the project
Associate professor Karsten Pærregaard, Department of Anthropology
Post.doc. Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen, Department of Anthropology
Post.doc. Astrid Bredholt Steensrud, Department of Anthropology
Ph.D. Fellow Laura Vang Rasmussen, Department of Geography
PhD fellow Maria Louise Bønnelykke Robertson, Department of Anthropology
Waterworlds resulted in merely 300 publications, two conference, a PhD course held in Greenland, various presentations, seminars and workshops, an expedtion to Himalaya and an exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark.
View the final ERC-report about the Waterworlds project here (pdf-format)
The project was funded by:
Waterworlds was funded by the European Research Council
Project: Natural Environmental Disasters and Social Resilience in Anthropological Perspective (Waterworlds)
Project Investigator: Kirsten Hastrup
Start: January 2009
Slut: June 2014