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January 12, 2008, 2:00 PM

Weather and Imagination

Participants: Deborah Coen (moderator), Sheila Jasanoff, Anthony Leiserowitz, Stephanie LeMenager, Ben Orlove

Oscar Wilde famously quipped, "Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me nervous." This roundtable will explore "weather talk" in its varied forms and multiple layers of signification. Now that it is almost universally acknowledged that human activities are radically altering our global climate, it is essential to examine the diversity of ways in which humans encounter weather. Climate, after all, is a statistical abstraction; weather is what we live each day. The roundtable will be an interdisciplinary dialogue addressing questions such as: How do different cultures interpret and apply meteorological forecasts? How do perceptions of weather-related risk vary? How do common images and narratives shape experiences of weather? Can the arts help us think critically about the values and assumptions we bring to our interactions with the earth's atmosphere? Relevant disciplines include meteorology and climatology, psychology and psychoanalysis, sociology, economics, history, anthropology, literature, and the visual arts.

Deborah R. Coen is an Assistant Professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she teaches modern central European history and history of science and technology. Her research is driven by an interest in how scientists grapple with uncertainty and unpredictability. Currently, she is studying how central European climate scientists in the first half of the twentieth century struggled to demarcate "local" climates in the face of the radical shifts in scale of their patron states. Her previous research probed the intersection of science and family dynamics in fin-de-siècle Vienna. She is the author of Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life and a co-editor of Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate.

Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Her research interests center on the interactions of law, science, and politics in democratic societies. Specific areas of work include science and the law; comparative politics of environmental regulation and risk management; and the national, international, and global implications of scientific and technological change. Her most recent publications include States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order and (with Marybeth Martello) Earthly Politics: Local and Global in Environmental Governance. Her latest book, Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States, was published by Princeton University Press in 2005.

Anthony Leiserowitz is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and a Research Scientist at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. He directs the Yale Project on Climate Change and is a widely recognized expert on public climate change risk perceptions, policy preferences, and behavior. His research includes survey, experimental, and field studies at multiple scales including individual states (Alaska and Florida), the United States (five national surveys) and internationally (USA, UK, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina). He also recently conducted the first global assessment of public values, attitudes, and behaviors regarding sustainable development.

Stephanie LeMenager is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her first book, Manifest and Other Destinies, won the Thomas J. Lyon award for Best Book in Western American Literary Studies. LeMenager has published articles in ALH, ELH and other US/American Studies venues; she is currently at work on a second book entitled Weather Events: Climate and Culture in North America.

Ben Orlove teaches in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California at Davis. He is also an Adjunct Senior Research Scientist in the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. Trained as an anthropologist, he has conducted extensive field work in the Peruvian Andes and has also worked in Uganda and Australia. In addition to his numerous academic books and articles, he is the author of a travel book about his time in Peru, Lines in the Water: Nature and Culture at Lake Titicaca. He has also published a memoir about his father, In My Father's Study.


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