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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Meteorological Government: A Political Genealogy of Climate Knowledge in the United States, 1780-2018
by Baker, Zeke, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2019, 425; 13896271
Abstract (Summary)

The basic argument of Meteorological Government is that the dynamics of how scientists come to measure, know, and understand climate have changed over time as a result of struggles within the scientific enterprises concerned with climate and weather, intersecting with state-making practices and broader practices of government. I theorize this process as meteorological government. I define meteorological government, then, as the process by which actors deploy meteorological knowledge to constitute, categorize, and calculate climatic and social orders simultaneously. Drawing upon primary and secondary historical sources, I trace dynamics of meteorological government, using the case of the United States from its late colonial origins to 2018. Empirical analysis provides a sociohistorical account of three consecutive transformations in basic understandings of climate, which I argue can be understood as distinct logics of meteorological government. The first understanding, prevalent from the late Enlightenment to the 1840s encompassed “climate” as a body/atmospheric dynamic. In this period, meteorologists elaborated a colonial worldview that held bodies and climates to be intertwined and, in the American context, undergoing rapid changes. Knowing climate and governing its relationship to human affairs unfolded as a matter especially of medical analysis and moral discipline. Human bodies, socially stratified and variously constituted, formed the locus of meteorological government. In the second phase, this locus transformed when meteorology, as a scientific enterprise, intersected bureaucratic state formation and industrial capitalism from the 1850s to around 1920. Over the course of this period, professional meteorologists and climatologists helped to rationalize climates as statistically “stable” (that is, temporally unchanging) designations tied to delineated geographic areas. Weather and climate became successfully integrated into both a capitalist economic order and the supporting material infrastructures that helped to make nature legible to state administration, tasked as it became with the productivity and circulation of capital. Beginning in the 1930s but coming to a head in the 1950s and 1960s, meteorological government in these terms began to unravel. As a result of the tight integration of atmospheric scientists and new scientific institutions during and after World War II, scientists elaborated an understanding of climate as a global and radically destabilizing system. As climate science became centrally focused on global warming and related disturbances to the earth system, scientists undercut the basic ideology that the national state, fossil-based capitalism, and science could rationalize (or even control) climate. A dilemma ensued by around 1980, when climate science became politicized in a way that fragmented the existing relationships between science and government. As a result, one major recent turn in meteorological government has involved efforts to depoliticize climate science by rendering projected climate changes as issues of national security. Analysis of “climate security” demonstrates that meteorological government in the context of accelerating climate change risk stands at a crossroads. One path may re-embed science and government in service of human needs and sustainability. Another path may mobilize science, capital, and the state towards the adaptation of protected social classes and geographic spaces over others.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hall, John R.
Commitee: Mudge, Stephanie L., Carroll, Patrick E., Davis, Diana K.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociology, Science history, Environmental Studies
Keywords: Climate change, Climate politics, Governmentality, History of meteorology, Science and technology studies
Publication Number: 13896271
ISBN: 9781085798402
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