Theme Seminar 2022-23

Climate Crisis Politics

Seminar Texts and Schedule

The climate crisis generates novel political questions and predicaments.  The novelty arises from the crisis’s emergency quality, its global dimensions yet unequally distributed effects, and its severe indictment of existing ways of human life.  The crisis challenges conventional formulations of justice, freedom, sovereignty, progress, belonging and even understandings of humanity, ontology, historiography, temporality, power, and generational and collective responsibility.  It raises questions about disciplinarity, methods and modeling, about realism and incrementalism, about nation-states, capitalism, colonialism and technology.  How do these challenges and questions reorient twenty-first century political, social and economic thought and practice?  What kinds of theory meet these challenges?

The climate crisis also raises concrete questions for social scientists.  There are issues of political economy:  Is sustainable capitalism oxymoronic?  Can capitalism’s dependence on fossil fuels and growth in consumption be eliminated (in time)?  Can renewable energy sources avoid new depredations of vulnerable peoples and places, such as those entailed in extracting rare earth minerals?   Can “pricing nature” and other market instruments stem the crisis and yield climate justice?  What are the alternatives?   There are issues of power and rule:  What are the most effective governing levels (global, regional, national or subnational) and forms (autocratic, technocratic or democratic) for addressing the crisis?  What are the roles of non-governmental entities, such as banks, corporations and social movements?   Can anti-democratic “global government” be avoided while achieving significant global agreements and cooperation?   How can legacies of imperialism, colonialism, and unequal development be redressed rather than reinforced in responses to the climate emergency?  What are the virtues and limitations of decentralized responses, such as shutting down extractivist industries or establishing stringent local standards?  Can these be effectively “scaled up” or multiplied?    

The theoretical and concrete questions above are suggestive and do not exhaust the concerns of the year-long seminar on climate crisis politics.

The theme seminar will be led by Wendy Brown, UPS Foundation Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, and Timothy Mitchell, William B. Ransford Professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University, in collaboration with Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor, and Alondra Nelson, Harold F. Linder Professor, both at the Institute for Advanced Study.