These research seminars are interdisciplinary discussions around contemporary debates in the humanistic social sciences of climate change and the environment. Events take multiple formats, including standard seminar format as well as more engaged discussions of relevant readings and works in progress.

At present due to the current circumstances, seminars are taking place online via Zoom. The seminars are open to all. If you would like access to any of the upcoming seminars please email

The series is co-sponsored by the Department of Geography and Environment, the Department of Sociology, and the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

It is organised by Dr Kasia Paprocki ( and Dr Austin Zeiderman ( of the Department of Geography and Environment and Dr Rebecca Elliott ( of the Department of Sociology. Please contact Dr Rebecca Elliott with any questions. Updates can be found here.

Michaelmas Term 2020

Professor J. Timmons Roberts, Department of Sociology and Institute at Brown for Environment & Society, Brown University 

Tuesday, 13 October, 1-2:30pmZoom

Please note the Zoom link is passcode-protected. If you would like access to the seminar please email

The New U.S. Climate Battleground: Actors and Coalitions in the States

Gridlock and rollback in Washington has led to a turn to the states for action on climate change in the U.S. The state of Massachusetts presents a particularly puzzling case, since it was an early leader with binding emissions targets, but the succeeding dozen years have seen most ambitious efforts stalled or watered down. We collected 1,187 pieces of legislative testimony, all reported lobbying visits, and input from over fifty experts. We describe the legislative interests, resource mobilization, and framings of the different coalitions engaged in Massachusetts energy politics. We find that clean energy advocates have few staunch allies and face a cohesive coalition of opponents from the real estate, fossil fuel and chemical, and utilities industries. Further, our analysis indicates the central role utilities play in blocking the most ambitious clean energy legislation, and how they remodel those bills that survive the process into forms favorable to their interests.

Professor James R. Elliott, Department of Sociology, Rice University

Tuesday, 10 November, 4-5:30pmZoom

Please note the Zoom link is passcode-protected. If you would like access to the seminar please email

Damages Done: The Long-Term Impacts of Rising Disaster Costs on Wealth Inequality
While climate science warns of long-term impacts that include the increased frequency and cost of natural disasters, social scientists rarely examine the long-term social consequences of such disasters and how we recover from them. This talk fills some of that gap. It begins by shifting disaster research from an event- to a population-centered framework. It then applies the tools of stratification research to a randomized sample of adults followed over fifteen years as natural hazards of varying types and levels of devastation hit the areas where they live. Results indicate that as local property damages from natural hazards increase, so too do inequalities in wealth accumulation over time, especially along the lines of race, education, and homeownership status. And, the more government spends on recovery aid in affected areas, the more those inequalities grow. Implications for theorizing and redressing climate injustices will be discussed.

Professor Veronica Strang, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University

Tuesday, 1 December, 1-2:30pmZoom

Please note the Zoom link is passcode-protected. If you would like access to the seminar please email

Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Current Environmental Crisis

Human societies have developed very different trajectories of engagement with their environments over time. Some of these long-term relationships contain more potential for sustainability than others. Early human societies worshipped ‘nature beings’, including water serpent deities who manifested the elemental and generative powers of water. Such beliefs supported collaborative and reciprocal efforts to co-exist respectfully with the non-human world: a form of ‘conviviality’ that maintained highly sustainable lifeways. However, as many societies enlarged, became more hierarchical, and developed more instrumental technologies, they humanised their gods to worship their own rather than non-human powers. This produced ideas about ‘dominion’ over nature that, in prioritising human needs and interests at the expense of all others, have led directly to the current environmental crisis. Focusing on images and objects representing water serpent beings, and exploring what happened to these over time, this seminar draws on the cross-cultural comparison that is central to anthropology, as well as the temporal depth offered by history and archaeology, to ask what we can learn from earlier societies, and from the contemporary indigenous communities who retain traditional beliefs and values. Is there creative scope to incorporate the tenets of more sustainable modes of environmental engagement into contemporary debates about ‘rights for nature’? Can alternate worldviews assist societies in developing less anthropocentric ways of thinking about and engaging with the non-human world? In the face of contemporary realities, how can we re-establish more convivial human-environmental relations?