Reflections in Preparation for Paris, France

Written by Sarah Huang

As an anthropologist in training, I have really learned what the phrase “in training” actually means. I am a member of a five-person collaborative ethnography project in Barrow, Alaska with my advisor, Dr. Laura Zanotti. In this project, we work with local community members in understanding challenges that women and men face within the community. I have conducted ethnographic research in Barrow, Alaska for the past two years as well as conducted research on decolonizing methodologies and collaborative and participatory research. Even with experience of conducting field work, I have learned that every entry into ‘the field’ is incredibly nerve-wracking, exciting, and anxious. These are mostly the feelings that I have going into Paris this coming week.

After being invited onto the COP21 research team this past summer, I have met with my fellow team members, learned about (a new to me method) collaborative event ethnography, and prepared for our departure to Paris. This whole process has felt anew in engaging in this research process and research team. Many times I find myself simultaneously feeling both in my element and completely out of my element, but I find comfort in belonging to this particular research team. Individually, we all bring our identities, experiences, and interests to our research questions as well as to the research process. But being an anthropologist in training has meant continuously defining and redefining my identity as an anthropologist, a graduate student, a student, and also me. I find solace in reflecting on my own weaknesses as a team member on this team and have learned a lot about research practice from my fellow team members. A few weeks ago we conducted a practice field note taking exercise where we watched a recording of a side event from COP12 on biodiversity conservation. To be honest, this exercise was really quite overwhelming. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I wasn’t familiar with the terminology, but that has all been a part of the very humbling ‘in training’ research process.

I come to this team with a background in environmental studies, but mostly in domestic environmental policies and have been working with Dr. Laura Zanotti at Purdue on collaborative and community based participatory research and environmental anthropology. It has been really interesting to scale out my knowledge in environmental justice onto the global scale. I am currently in Kim’s (Dr. Marion Suiseeya) Global Environmental Governance class where I have been learning a lot about environmental justice within global environmental policies and negotiations. My interests in climate change have been in personal experiences of climate effects in Alaska over the past 10 years, but also in the interviews with Barrow community members about effects on subsistence hunting and cultural traditions. My training in environmental studies has always been focused on environmental justice and food justice, which brings out my passion for social movements fighting against injustices. It has been incredibly inspiring to see events unfold on social media leading up to Paris as communities, organizations, and groups come together to fight for climate justice.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris, France on November 13, 2015 I wasn’t sure how to comprehend what had just happened. At first it felt incredibly overwhelming to process the hatred, violence, and global fear that had just erupted within the city and then rippled throughout the world. I’m still not sure how I’m processing this event except for feelings of helplessness, until I stumbled upon this piece written by Naomi Klein. Naomi reflects on how the terrorist attacks will impact the Paris negotiations through themes of violence and perpetuation of violence. After the attacks, it was announced that marches and protests have been unauthorized in Paris during the negotiations. This statement did not surprise me at the time, because it was made to address safety concerns and security issues within the city following the attacks, but the effects of this act are unjust towards the most climate vulnerable peoples in their act of solidarity and power. This directly impacts the presence of global solidarity for climate justice, but less visible, is the perpetuation of violence through climate injustice on indigenous and marginalized peoples as an effect of the violence of terrorist organizations. As a project interested in indigenous and minority representation in global environmental negotiations, it is important that we also consider how the immediate events of terrorism and global security raise the question: whose security matters and what forms of violence are recognized?

Heading into Paris I am most excited about a few events including those pertaining to food sovereignty and gender in relation to climate justice. But I think what I am most looking forward to is the general power and strength that comes from being a part of solidarity and movements fighting f12241403_957006261046080_1175475980588822847_nor justice. While there has been a lot of dispute and skepticism about whether an agreement will be made in Paris, I believe that there will be an agreement. And I am already feeling empowered seeing movements that have responded to fighting for climate justice, representation, and solidarity with allies worldwide. I am incredibly grateful to be a part of these movements and a part of this research team and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you over the next few weeks.

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