Sarah E. VaughnJul 29, 2023
In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation
Duke University Press 2022
Sarah E. Vaughn’s Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation (Duke UP, 2022) examines climate adaptation strategies that upend the neat divisions of linear temporality separate the past, present, and the future, and shows how multiple temporalities co-exist in the pressing sense of crisis that engulfs coastal spaces vulnerable to flooding. Her ethnographic account takes us to Guyana in the aftermath of the 2005 catastrophic floods that ravaged the country’s Atlantic coastal plain. The country’s ensuing engineering projects reveal the contingencies of climate adaptation and the capacity of flooding to shape Guyanese expectations about racial (in)equalities as seen through the lens of ‘apan jaat’ (loosely translated from Hindi/Bhojpuri to for our kind or community), which has been the dominant political ideology creating a divide between the Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese diasporas, in the postcolonial independent nation-state, that has been the site of both plantation slavery and indentured labor during the colonial period.
Analyzing the coproduction of race and vulnerability, Vaughn details why climate adaptation has implications for the limits of ideologies such as ‘apan jaat’ and demands newer forms of political ideation and action. Such understandings become particularly apparent not only through engineering experts’ and ordinary citizens’ disputes over resources but in their attention to bringing ethical questions to bear on the technoscientific climate adaptation projects. Vaughn offers us a complex and compelling narrative that begins from the local, personal, and deeply material aspects of climate adaptation from the Global South while never losing sight of the stakes for these struggles on the global and planetary stages—showing how questions of environmental justice are inextricably tied to questions of historical racialization.
Archit Guha is a PhD researcher in the Duke University History Department.