Climate science and slow violence: A view from political geography and STS on mobilizing technoscientific ontologies of climate change

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O’Lear, Shannon
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This paper's central concern is to trace how dominant, scientific understanding of climate change is mobilized in ways that set a course towards slow violence. Slow violence is indirect, latent, and results in neglectful human suffering. It can result from particular actions or decisions; it can result from epistemic and political dominance of particular narratives or understandings. This paper takes a constructivist Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective to look at the emergence of a technoscientific understanding of climate change and to consider political geographic implications of this interpretation. Following an overview of inroads already made in applying an STS approach to climate studies, I turn to two examples of specific scientific narratives or practices, reliance on Global Circulation Models by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and carbon data, to consider ways in which selective, political mobilization of these interpretations of climate change may contribute to forms of slow violence. The science in either case is not in question. Instead, the foreclosure of other ways of understanding human-environment interactions is brought about in part by geopolitics as usual and through the work of powerful actors and interests. The paper argues for a re-politicization of climate change and considers examples of alternative narratives and efforts towards equity and transparency.


O’Lear, Shannon. 2015. “Climate Science and Slow Violence: A View from Political Geography and STS on Mobilizing Technoscientific Ontologies of Climate Change.” Political Geography. doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2015.01.004.