In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Deborah Coen explores how human beings make sense of large-scale natural phenomena like climate change. What does it mean to “understand” climate change? Does it mean the same thing to concerned citizens as it does to natural scientists, or humanities scholars, or policymakers? Coen uses a brief history of climate science since the nineteenth century to explore these questions and to challenge the traditional dichotomy between scientific explanation and humanistic understanding.
Lindsey Dillon, Christopher Sellers, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) conclude the “Just Environments” series with a sobering look at the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental agencies. In response to these threats, EDGI has been working to protect federal environmental data, monitor government websites, and analyze the impact of proposed policy changes. Crucially, EDGI calls for “environmental data justice”—a rethinking and remaking of environmental data and governance practices that combines grassroots monitoring with digital technologies.
The Anxieties of Democracy (AoD) program’s Working Group on Climate Change has released three substantive reports on the ways in which social science, particularly political science, can and should engage with climate change. Here, AoD’s Kris-Stella Trump and Cole Edick provide an overview of the reports, which address the political demand for addressing climate change, the politics of choosing climate change policies, and the ethical and normative concerns that underscore the need for political action. Each report provides a concise overview of current research and outlines suggestions for future work.
In this new contribution to the Democracy Papers, Elisabeth Clemens discusses what she calls the “(mis)alignment of social and political geography” in the United States as an unrecognized source of democratic anxiety. Taking an historical perspective, Clemens traces the increasing distancing of citizens and lived communities from infrastructures and geographies of governance. “Antistatism, federalism, and repeated redistricting,” she argues, render opaque the identification of “effective channels of influences or … responsibility for good or bad governing.”
Rarely do we get a sense of how conservative white working class Americans view the civic competence of urban-based liberals. Katherine Cramer provides such a perspective in this Democracy Paper, building on the extensive research for her book on rural Wisconsites with follow-up visits during the 2016 election campaign and the early days of the Trump administration. Cramer finds a very deep and mutual lack of faith, a chasm that makes the possibility for building alliances, or even dialogue, across polarized groups a difficult one.
Over the next months, Items will publish essays based on research presented at a spring workshop on the theme “Democratic Participation: A Broken Promise?” cosponsored by the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program’s Participation group and the German-based Democratic Anxieties. Claudia Landwehr, co-organizer of Democratic Anxieties, describes the fraught efforts of democracy to deal with “disturbances”—deep tensions that put at risk agreement on democratic procedures and the norms of reciprocity that undergird it. Landwehr argues for practices of “meta-deliberation” to draw publics into discussion about the norms through which reciprocity and procedural consensus are produced.
Reflecting on the recent US electoral campaign and its aftermath as the most recent and powerful evidence for the existence of a “post-truth” age, Duncan Watts and David Rothschild argue that we have entered a legitimacy crisis—“whom and what to trust,” as they put it—in relation to knowledge claims and the institutions that validate them. The authors discuss why information technologies have exacerbated the problem, and offer some suggestions for compensating for and perhaps restoring lost legitimacy.
Why has climate change been so difficult to address through democratic institutions and processes? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program established a working group to engage this question. Robert O. Keohane and Nancy L. Rosenblum, cochairs of the working group, provide a sense of the issues that have animated its work thus far: mobilization for climate change, the politics of mitigation strategies, and the often neglected role of emotion in democratic participation.
William G. O’Neill, director of the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, reflects on what a Donald Trump presidency may mean for the United Nations’ core objectives of international peace and security, economic development, and human rights. Based on candidate Trump’s public pronouncements and President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments thus far, O’Neill envisions a dramatically different engagement, or perhaps a disengagement, with the UN’s mission and work.
Delia Wendel, a fellow of the SSRC’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship program, demonstrates how spatial and social research strategies can be combined through her work in post-genocide Rwanda. Wendel’s contribution engages issues raised in our "Interdisciplinarity Now" theme through a critical analysis of Rwanda’s villagization policy as part of its peacebuilding efforts after a devastating civil war. Wendel’s work speaks directly to the concerns of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and its blog Kujenga Amani.