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Sunday, February 28 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Vital Ice: Perceiving Past, Present, and Future in melting Ice-scapes

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(LIVE conversation with presenters. Please watch the session video beforehand.)

With this panel, we propose to think of ice bodies as a vital entity, or assemblage of interdependent relations. Glaciers and other ice bodies are sometimes considered as a nonhuman force, physical and symbolic 'vibrant matter' (as per Jane Bennett), or a web of relations whose emerging agency acts on humans. The vitality of ice bodies is also seen in their personhood, and with their recession, persons or entities vanish, along with their stories, histories, and knowledge. Ice masses can also be parts of assemblages that bring together different forms of life - human, nonhuman, and divine - which are linked by principles of reciprocity. Vitality is also a central element in how ice is known. These diverse perspectives and relationships with ice often hold up a mirror to the cascading loss of other vibrancies. The papers presented draw from a diverse array of work done in Iceland, the Alps, the Andes, and the Himalayas to document how people understand, and are responding to, the loss of glacial mass. Through seven pre-recorded lectures and a post-presentation discussion, the double panel will examine the cultural, environmental, religious, and spiritual implications of the vital ice that is being lost around the world.

Chair: Georgina Drew

Karine Gagné, “Beyond the (Geo)politics of Climate Knowledge: Sensorial Engagement, Materiality, and the Himalayan Cryosphere”

Examining narratives of encounters with glaciers by herders of Ladakh, this paper probes the (geo)politics of knowledge about glaciers in Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas. The ontological and epistemological work of the science of the Himalayan cryosphere is largely based on the construction, from a distance and through technologies, of ice as an epistemic formation. In Ladakh, this approach is partly favored due to geostrategic concerns. The politics of knowledge about glaciers is also linked to the authority of science. But what other forms of knowledge about ice exist outside the dominant discourse of science? Here, I analyze knowledge about glaciers as something that develops through mobility, sensorial engagement, interactions with nonhumans, as an affective experience, and as embodied in persons. I focus on herders' observations about the sonorous dimension of glaciers, which point at an intimate knowledge about the mountainous environment, including nonhuman others and divine beings. In doing so, I raise questions about the decolonization of climate knowledge through alternative narratives about climate change and earthly processes.

Arjun Sharma, “Whose glacier is it anyway? The perils of locality in promoting artificial glaciers as a climate change solution in the Indian Himalaya”

This paper examines the genealogy of the term 'local' as it is used in contemporary sustainable development discourse, and by the supporters of the Ice Stupa artificial glacier project in the Indian Himalayan border region of Ladakh. It argues that while this concept of locality was effective in framing the interests and motives of different actors - including a social reformer and Buddhist religious luminary - to create the internationally lauded Ice Stupa artificial glaciers; this understanding of the local diverged from Ladakhi villagers' place based understanding of the concept of 'waste', and the social role of irrigation technology. These findings suggest that those interested in helping mountain communities negotiate climate change, should critically interrogate the 'local' as a historically situated 'boundary concept' rather than a pre-existing geographical scale.

Austin Lord, “Ice, Disaster, and Vitality: Morphologies of Uncertainty in the Langtang Valley”

The Langtang Valley of Nepal is both one of the most important sites for glaciological research in the Himalayan region and the ancestral home for a community struggling to recover from a devastating glacier-related disaster. Glaciers are vital in Langtang, in that they can give and take life - and in 2015, a massive co-seismic avalanche came down from the life-giving slopes of Langtang Lirung, taking life at an unthinkable and unprecedented scale. As climate change increases the risk of similar events, a variety of people seek to understand these processes and describe uncertainties - reckoning future possibilities in the context of 'climate-related disasters in the Himalayan cryosphere' or in terms of the highly situated ethical relations that shape 'moral ecologies' in Langtang. As glaciologists and climate scientists establish new research stations and expand long-term monitoring programs, the Langtangpas are working to restore relations with local protector deities who can help them cope with the lived uncertainties of past and future hazards. As dialogue between groups and worldviews continues - complicated, alternately problematic and promising - questions of epistemological pluralism emerge alongside different narratives of what exactly is vital.

Mattias Borg Rasmussen, “Grappling with Change: Signification and Climate in the Andes”

Andean Peru has long been a hotspot for global climate change. This paper provides a reassessment of the dynamics of climate change in Peru's Cordillera Blanca. Based on qualitative and quantitative material, it reviews the impacts of climate change on rural livelihoods. It is particularly concerned with 'signification', that is, how people ascribe meaning to the changes and embed them into cultural understandings, and how this signification becomes part of community politics. We suggest that such processes of meaning-making hinge upon the mending and remaking of severed relations between the waterscape and people of the high Andes. The signification of climate change in the Andes filters into community politics, both as contests over the meaning of community itself, as a framework for inwards and outwards community action, and as a contested field of future-making.

Julianne Yip, “Can ice die?: Approaching ‘vitality’ from the perspective of sea ice”

Can ice die? This question frames my paper, which approaches the concept of 'vitality' from the perspective of Arctic sea ice. Taking up the 2019 funeral of Okj?kull glacier in Iceland as an empirical departure point, I ask: What does it mean to grant life (and the possibility of death), to icy forms, such as glaciers or sea ice? What does 'vitality' look like from the perspective of Arctic sea ice, the ice form that I followed for my anthropological fieldwork? These are pressing questions in a time of mass extinctions in which ice, itself, has been cast as an 'endangered species.' Adopting an ice-centric approach, this paper explores what sea ice demands of ethical responses, including storytelling, which do not ground in identity, shared mortality, or life itself.

Elizabeth Allison, “Life Without Ice: Glacier Extinction, Extinction of Experience”

Disappearing glaciers have been described as sentinels for a warming world: climate change is intensified at the high latitudes and altitudes, hastening the melting of glaciers and ice caps. Glacial decline has numerous documented geological, hydrological, atmospheric, and sociological consequences. What is not yet well understood are the consequences of complete disappearance, or extinction, of high-altitude glaciers. Glacial extinction is hypothesized to have a range of social consequences for mountain communities, including effects on water supply, fuel, and fodder, cultural identity and spirituality, aesthetics, and recreation. Glaciers are powerful cultural symbols, perceived as responsive to the human moral climate. Observing irrevocable change in one's home territory can lead to emotional responses such as loss and mourning, characterized as "eco-anxiety" or "solastalgia", and a generalized sense of insecurity. To develop resilient responses to climate ch

avatar for Elizabeth Allison

Elizabeth Allison

Associate Professor Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness Program School of Consciousness and Transformation (SCT), California Institute of Integral Studies
avatar for Karine Gagné

Karine Gagné

Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, University of Guelph
avatar for Arjun Sharma

Arjun Sharma

Postdoctoral Researcher, KU Leuven
avatar for Austin Lord

Austin Lord

PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University
avatar for Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Associate Professor, Section for Global Development, University of Copenhagen
avatar for Julianne Yip

Julianne Yip

2020–21 Canadian Science Policy Fellow, Mitacs
avatar for Georgina Drew

Georgina Drew

Senior Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Adelaide

Sunday February 28, 2021 2:00pm - 3:30pm MST
Online (Live)