19/05/2021- GTD Colloquium: Dr. Sara de Wit

Title of Presentation

How climate change travels to sub-Saharan Africa: The anthropology of forecasting, future-making and anticipation in humanitarianism?


Contemporary discourse on climate change and the Global South largely unfolds through the tropes of vulnerability and crisis. Sub-Sahara Africa is characterised as the most vulnerable continent to climate change, as it is said to suffer from an ‘Adaptation Deficit’ (IPCC). In this paper, I propose an alternative approach to studying climate change in the Global South in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular by drawing attention to the political work such rhetoric performs. I will advance the basic argument that in this increasingly globalised and interconnected world we need to explore climate change not just as a bio-physical phenomenon to which people adapt, but as an emergent global planetary imaginary – or an idea that travels, which deserves critical scrutiny in its own right. In the first part of this talk, I explore how the idea of climate change (adaptation) – here used as an umbrella term for the manifold projects, global discourses, images, new models and scientific representations – travels to the Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania to enhance the adaptive capacity of local communities to climatic change already occurring. In the second part, I focus on the use of technologies that seek to anticipate future changes in the climate. Drawing on my fieldwork in which I worked with climate modelers and humanitarians, I explore how forecasting models that are used to anticipate natural disasters have the power to reconfigure the humanitarian sector.

Biography of Dr. Sara de Wit

Postdoctoral research affiliate, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) University of Oxford

Trained in anthropology and African Studies, Sara has long-term multi-sited fieldwork experience in Cameroon, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique. She has carried out ethnographies of aid – at the intersection of STS, development theories, environmental anthropology and postcolonial studies – in which she broadly focused on how globally circulating technologies, ideas such as climate change and notions of development travel, and what happens when they are translated by varying actors along the translation chain. Sara is part of the Forecasting for Anticipatory Humanitarian Action (FATHUM) project that seeks to explore how improved forecasting models are used to anticipate floods and tropical cyclones. She is currently carrying out a history of the WaSH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) sector for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The event will take place at 15.30 on the 19 May 2021. It can be accessed here.