Perceptions of Risk in the Himalayas
Monthly Webinar Series: December 2023-December 2024 (Culminating in a workshop)
In recent years, the Himalayas have increasingly come to be seen as a canary in the coal mine with respect to climate change impact. The region has therefore become a testing ground for theories of ‘risk’, ‘crisis’ and other associated terms such as disaster, hazards, vulnerability, and resilience.
Beyond the immediacy of this ecological framing of both risk and of the Himalayas as a region of interest, this webinar series is an invitation to reflect on the “productive life of risk” (Zaloom 2004) in the Himalayas through longer historical trajectories and wider disciplinary perspectives.
How might our understanding of the Himalayas - as a physical location, as a cultural construct, as a political space - be enriched by this interdisciplinary interrogation of the idea of risk? How do geographers, engineers, anthropologists, artists, historians, architects, political scientists differently use the lens of risk to study the Himalayas, and how might a conversation between them engender new insights and new questions, both about the region and about the concept itself?
The calculability of risk is at the heart of the project of modernity. Instead of taking this calculability as a given, this webinar series seeks to interrogate the assumptions underlying the idea of "acceptable risk" in various disciplinary approaches to the region. The series will contribute to a broader effort to denaturalise and historise the concept of risk, by exploring how “risk” has been constitutive in shaping the materiality, geopolitics, cultural articulations, history and perceptions of the Himalayas.
The specific (but not exhaustive) questions that the webinar series will address include:
Earth Scientist, Physical Research Laboratory, India
Cultural Anthropologist, Utrecht University, Netherlands
Filmmaker and Anthropologist, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Cultural Anthropologist, University of Washington, USA
Kuman region, Uttarakhand
Natural resource management/Community Development , Arizona State University, USA
Historian, Ashoka University, India
China and the trans-Himalayan Tibetan region
Jenny Bentley & Minket Lepcha
Social Anthropologist & Storyteller/Filmmaker, Echostream (India) & Tapriza (Switzerland/Nepal)
Environmental Anthropologist, IIT Gandhinagar, India
Historian, Government Affairs and Public Policy Lead, South Asia, Google
Ecologist, Nature Conservation Foundation, India
About the convener
Suchismita Das ([email protected])is a cultural anthropologist working in the Eastern Himalayas. Her current project Cultural Analysis of Environmental Precarity and Adaptation in the Eastern Himalayas examines how Indian citizens of the Eastern Himalayan borderlands of Sikkim experience environmental vulnerability when recurrent landslides wash away arterial roads, isolating and marginalising them from the mainland. The study offers an anthropological understanding of how people in Sikkim perceive environmental vulnerability in culturally specific ways and evolve socio-politically grounded strategies to adapt to such vulnerability. While migration as a form of environmental adaptation has received attention, this study seeks to analyse how citizens deal with immobilisation as an effect of environmental vulnerability. While cultural studies of adaptation in Sikkim often limit themselves to focusing on specific ethnic groups and their traditional practices, this study aims to examine the dynamic cultural practices evolving across the state, in response to changing environmental conditions. The project analyses how citizens, politicians, bureaucrats and engineers in the Himalayas address environmental vulnerability and adaptation differently, informed by their cultural beliefs, political motives and scientific knowledge.
Please contact Satvik Singh ([email protected]) for registration links.