The Politics of Performance: Dramaturgy outside COP21

Written by Sarah Huang

As we join COP21, our research is guided by three themes, which will be discussed throughout these blog posts. These three themes include: Translation, Scale, and Performance.


Translation refers to how different actors define problems, solutions and their role in solving problems; defining roles and convincing others to accept and take on these roles; and speaking for other actors.
Scale refers to different processes of scale, such as local, regional, and global that shape how ideas emerge.
Performance refers to how roles are performed and how these lend to how knowledge and identities are legitimized and delegitimized, and how shared meanings are constructed and deconstructed.

As a member of the civil society team, Kim, Liz, Scott, Suraya and I went to the COP21 meeting site Le Bourget. Upon arrival, to the site we walked along the tall metal fence that was separating the site from the roadside. There were armed guards on the inside of the fence on the top of grassy berms. There were also guards located at the gate entrances. As we walked towards the conference center, we were greeted by large columns with each country’s flags displayed alphabetically.

A biodiversity stand with volunteers were handing out apples from Carrefour to all people coming into the event. These stands promoted a “Taste of Biodiversity” and “Agroecology as a climate solution”. Agroecology is based on a whole-system approach based in traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food experiences. This promotion of agroecology and an alternative form of agriculture and biodiversity was a strong point, but what was not clear was whether these apples being handed out were a product of agroecology.

While we were standing around, buses were dropping off delegates to attend the formal meetings, and we even caught a glimpse of Al Gore as he walked into the center. Other forms of performance were conducted outside the conference center that called a lot of attention to people coming into the conference center.

The ClimActs #climateguardians from Australia were standing in the front holding up signs for “Climate Justice”, “Free our Power”, and “Coal Kills”. These six women of varying ages were dressed in white gowns and scarves with green wreaths sprinkled with white flowers on their heads. Each of the women were wearing five foot wings that were made of various colored pieces of tulle. These women had been standing outside all morning and were also visiting different sites and movements around Paris. The group was surprised that there weren’t other forms of protest happening during this first day of COP21. At this point, we said goodbye to Fernando and Laura as they headed inside to serve as delegates at the formal ‘blue zone’ meetings.

Another performance was the Earth Guardians group, which is a group of indigenous youth and  rappers, who were standing in the center outside the doors of the conference. It wasn’t clear whether this was a strategic or explicit performance, but the gathering of various press swarming the youth group and these three rappers standing alongside each other silently, became quite the performance.

I thought these events were very interesting forms of performance ​specifically the ways in which they displayed particular forms of identity. For me, the performance of angels and the symbology of angels as peace, pure, and guardians was really interesting. According to their website, the act of a guardian as a role in a “peaceful social disruption” as a symbol for climate justice and justice for clean energy resources. This costume and act of silent performance frames an understanding of climate justice is an act of peaceful protest. It makes me wonder: who are the guardians of the earth’s natural resources?

The use of angelic symbology as a form of guardian might suggest that we, as a collective, should be guardians of the earth’s natural resources. The representation of these angels outside the first day of COP21 sets the stage for a fight for climate justice that is both peaceful, but also needing to claim responsibility as guardians. This form of performance urging for a transition from dirty fossil fuels speaks to the impact that fossil fuels has on world, but does not explicitly mention the impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

First Day in Paris

Written by Sarah Huang

The team arrived in Paris this morning after a sleepless night. We might have lost 6 hours with the time change, but after a quick nap, we were up and running! Around 1:00 pm today, we had our first official team meeting here in Paris to discuss logistics, safety, event planning, and gear check. Fernando and Laura will be representing our team at the formal delegate meetings during the next two weeks. The news in Paris for today and tomorrow are about the free transit in the city due to the high traffic of Heads of State coming into Paris. President Barack Obama also arrived in Paris today. This is an interesting point of note as most negotiations have formal delegate meetings at the end of the conference period, rather than fronting them at the beginning. We are interested to see how this change in schedule will impact the events of COP21. Picture

After our team meeting we headed into the neighborhood to find a place to eat lunch, get some groceries and purchase our tickets for public transportation. We had lunch at a brasserie in the Saint Denis area and enjoyed walking outside on this windy day. Grocery shopping was another adventure at Carrafore, which is similar to a Target or Walmart. During our quick walking adventures we found some visuals of COP21 on the subway and billboards. We also were following the demonstrations happening in Paris and around the world today on Twitter and Snapchat. There were many climate marches happening in major cities throughout the world (Tweet from Rome March), the display of shoes in Paris in response to the ban on marches, and the police clashes in Paris with anti-capitalist protesters.Picture


While it is just Day 1 for us here in Paris, we must remember that the voices heard and the marches that happened are in response to a long history of seeking justice, peace, and power amidst many actors. Today we saw this play out through the demonstration of the right to representation and participation in public spaces.

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.