Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
ams masthead
Elizabeth Engelhardt, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2009

AMS 391 • Climate Change and Cultural Theory

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
30040 T
2:00 PM-5:00 PM
BUR 232

Course Description

Climate change is real, and it is happening now. This is the slogan of the day, proofed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), and mediated through events such as the Academy Awards and the Nobel Prize for the former vice-president Al Gore. While climate change obviously is a hybrid phenomenon, knowledge on climate change is almost exclusively based on scientific models and empirical data, and it is science that dominates the global discourse. The role of social sciences is mostly restricted to feeding the models of climate science or to social engineering. Important as these tasks are, there is still a great lack of a cultural theory. How do science, politics and everyday life relate? What kind of phenomenon is climate change? What is the culture of climate change? What does it mean to live within a fragile climate envelope?

This course will address climate change from the perspective of cultural theory. We will address questions concerning climate discourse, which still is marked by the ideological controversy between skeptics and admonishers. In this course, we will go beyond these debates. We will learn about the scientific construction of climate change and the role of science in climate discourse. We will not only discuss the question of science and society, but also critically question the problems of mitigation and of adaptation. Does the Kyoto treaty establish a new form of 'carbocracy', as some activists of developing countries suggest? How do the newly emerging energies change landscapes, and how do they affect the common grounds? What does happen when air, wind or 'atmosphere' are becoming capitalized? In exploring these questions, we will try to bring (climate) science 'into the world’ (Heidegger), to bring it 'into society’ (Latour), and vice versa to bring society back into the climate change debate (Pielke jr.).

Most of all, this course will be a think tank in order to address climate change in a new and more encompassing way. We will apply theories from philosophy, political ecology, science & technology studies, discourse theory, anthropology and sociology in order to sketch approaches to climate change beyond the divisions of nature and culture, science and society, or facts and values. We will elaborate the fundamentals of a new 'Aerography', we will work 'against gravity' (Sloterdijk), and we will try to integrate climate change into what Latour calls a 'Parliament of things'. In doing so, this ‘think tank’ can make an important contribution to an often times intellectually impoverished debate on one of the most challenging problems in the new millennium.


Gore, Al (2006) An Inconvenient Truth. The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and what to do about it. Kellow, Aynsley (2007) Science and Public Policy. The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science Jasanoff, Sheila and Marybeth Long Martello (eds.) (2004), Earthly Politics. Local and Global in Environmental Governance. Cambridge, Mass., London: The MIT Press Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory Latour, Bruno (2004) Politics of Nature. How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy. Latour, B. and Weibel, P. (eds.) (2005) Making Things Public - Atmospheres of Democracy Karlsruhe: ZMK and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT Press. Liotto, P.H. and Allan Shearer (2006) Gaia's Revenge: Climate Change and Humanity’s Loss. (Politics and Environment). Praeger Publishers Lomborg, Bjorn (2007) Cool it. The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming. Nordhaus, Ted & Michael Shellenberger (2007) Breakthrough. From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility Pielke, Roger A. Jr. (2007) The Honest Broker. Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics Sloterdijk, Peter (2005) Against Gravity. Bettina Funcke Talks with Peter Sloterdijk. Sloterdijk, Peter (2005) Atmospheric Politics. In: Latour, B. and Weibel, P. (eds.) Making Things Public – Atmospheres of Democracy Karlsruhe: ZMK and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT Press. Sloterdijk, Peter and Gesa Mueller von der Haegen (2005) Instant Democracy: The Pneumatic Parliament. In: Latour, B. and Weibel, P. (eds.) Making Things Public – Atmospheres of Democracy Karlsruhe: ZMK and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT Press. Stehr, Nico, and Hans von Storch (2009) Climate and Society: Climate as Resource and Climate as Risk: unpublished manuscript (96 pages) Strauss, Sarah and Benjamin S. Orlove (eds) (2003) Weather, Climate, Culture: Oxford, New York. Tsing, L. A. (2005) Friction. An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. von Storch, Hans, and Werner Krauss (2006) Culture Contributes to the Perception of Climate Change. Nieman Reports 59: 30-35.


bottom border