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Conference 2014: Meteorologies of Modernity

Conference in cooperation with the Postcolonial Europe Network

26.06.2014 – 28.06.2014

Conference Abstract

The conference sets out to explore weather, climate and climate changes, both past and present, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The aim is to broaden existing theoretical frameworks and to examine, historicize and contextualize discourses on climate and weather. Particular consideration will be given to literature and the arts, which we consider as an archive where specific meteorological knowledge is not only registered but also scrutinized and produced.

As the title Meteorologies of Modernity suggests, one cannot understand global warming without addressing its social, economic and political dimensions: the history of industrialization and colonization, or the (western) notions of, e.g., time, space but also freedom and, finally, the human. By putting a particular focus on weather, the conference proposes to examine another inherently modern phantasm and its relation to and/or repercussions for present discourses on global warming: namely, the ability to not only observe and predict, but to actually control and even produce weather and climate.

The conference takes as its starting point the claim put forward by various scholars that the present climate change calls for a reformulation of the concepts, methodologies, and institutional structures of contemporary humanities in general. According to historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, the planetary crisis of global warming has brought about a collapse of the distinction between the humanities and sciences: Due to the sheer number of human population and the excessive use of fossil fuel and other resources, humankind has now come to possess a geological force that is not only capable of shaping local environment, but of determining climate, weather and environment on a global scale. Consequently, these phenomena are no longer clearly pertaining to the realm of the “natural,” and therefore an object of study of the sciences. Chakrabarty’s idea of the “anthropocene” as the geological epoch in which humans constitute a geophysical as well as political agent poses a number of challenges to traditional approaches, both on a theoretical and methodological level. As the historian points out, what is required is to “bring together intellectual formations that are somewhat in tension with each other: the planetary and the global; deep and recorded histories; species thinking and critiques of capital.”1 The conference proposes to do this by putting into dialogue postcolonial studies and theories of globalization and by exploring questions of (postcolonial) justice, capitalism, and history.

Scholars in the field of postcolonial studies and ecocriticism in particular are in the process of developing frameworks in which to address questions of environmental (in)justice in national and global formations of domination, i.e. to understand the historical and political dimensions of how and why the effects of global warming affect certain communities, regions or nations more strongly than others. While most scholars would probably agree with Elizabeth Deloughrey and George Handley’s claim that postcolonial ecology must be more than an extension of postcolonial methodologies into the realm of the material world, it remains an ongoing task to explore the profile, methodologies and frameworks of such a postcolonial ecology. In what ways are the modern notions of the political, such as the nation state, affected and possibly altered? How, indeed, can we visualize notions of time and space that extend our familiar, i.e. modern temporal and spatial imagination? What temporalities does the discourse on climate change itself produce or forestall, by the use of, i.e., the affectively highly charged word “crisis”? How is our sense of history affected when all the future seems to bear is the advent of humanity’s end?

The conference wants to explore these and other questions, especially by drawing on the methodologies of literary and cultural studies, by bringing to the fore how literature and the arts allow us to critically and imaginatively engage with the representational challenges the discourses about climate, climate change and weather have to offer. As, for instance, a renewed interest for the topic in the context of cultural and literary studies has shown, weather bears a specific affective as well as metaphorical potential. Particular attention has moreover been given to cultural practices of “meteorology” – i.e. the daily practices of observation, cataloging, charting, and measuring oneself, the weather and the environment – as they constitute and shape (modern) subjectivities and a sense of relation to environment and being in the world. We would like to analyze to what extent narratives of weather and climate crises of different epochs display a “global consciousness,” how this is reflected in their narrative strategies, and which new/other knowledge systems and power constellations are being formed.

By contextualizing and historicizing meteorological knowledge from the viewpoints of historiography, literary studies, and cultural studies, the aim is to bring perspectives from postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and globalization theory into dialogue and to reflect upon the wider implications of climate change for the concepts, methodologies and institutional structures of contemporary humanities. The conference will have as contributors both established and young scholars of the various disciplines.


Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2009. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35: 197-222. P.

Conference Program

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Conference Venue: IBZ, Amalienstr. 38
13.30 Introductory Address: Sarah Fekadu, Fabienne Imlinger, Sandra Ponzanesi
14.00 Panel I Charting a Challenging Terrain (Chair: Sarah Fekadu)

  • Robert Stockhammer (LMU Munich) Philology in the Anthropocene?
  • Nicole Seymour (LMU Munich) Documentary Film and the Ironies of Climate Change

16.00–16.30 Coffee break

16.30 Panel II Mapping Climate Zones: From the Temperate…

  • Oliver Grill (LMU Munich) Unpredictable Weather? Meteorologic Calculations in Humboldt’s Kosmos and Stifter’s Nachsommer
  • Bernhard Malkmus (Ohio State University) Man in the Anthropocene: Max Frisch’s Eschatological Meteorology

19.00 Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago)
Beyond Capital: Time, Scale, and the Climate Crisis

20.30 Reception

Friday, 27 June 2014

Conference Venue: IBZ, Amalienstr. 38
9.00 Panel III …to the Polar…(Chair: Paulo de Medeiros)

  • Cornelia Lüdecke (University of Hamburg/Munich) The International Polar Year 1882/83 and the Investigation of Climate Change around 1900
  • Lars Jensen (Roskilde University) The Island that came in from the Cold: Greenland, Climate Change, and the Scramble for the Arctic

11.00–11.20 Coffee break

  • 11.20 Prem Poddar (Roskilde University) Writing on Water: East India Himalayas

12.20–13.20 Lunch

13.20 Panel IV …to the Tropical… (Chair: Isabel Kranz)

  • Eva Horn (University of Vienna) Tropes of the Tropics: The Anthropology of Hot Climate
  • Patrick Ramponi (Hagen University) Weather Manipulation and Weather Stress: Literary Meteoropathics and Climate Theory in a Global Age

15.20–15.40 Coffee break

  • Hanna Straß (LMU Munich) “There’s going to be a drought. A wrong thing was done.” Weather Phenomena in Linda Hogan’s People of the Whale
  • Antonia Mehnert (LMU Munich) Strange Flight Behavior: Climate Change, Butterflies, and Eco-Cosmopolitanism in Barbara Kingsolver’s Latest Cli-fi Novel

18.00 Reading by Mirko Bonné, Writer in Residence Weather Stations Project / Berlin
“Tell it to the Bees…”

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Conference venue: French Library, Ludwigstr. 25, 4th floor
9.30 Panel V Island Climates (Chair: Sandra Ponzanesi)

  • Johannes Ungelenk (LMU Munich) The Climate of the Isle: Shakespeare’s Tempest

10.30–11.00 Coffee break

  • Elizabeth DeLoughrey (U.C.L.A.) The Sea is Rising: Visualizing Climate Change in the Pacific
  • Graham Huggan (University of Leeds) Unlucky Country? Australian Literature, Risk, and the Global Climate Challenge

13.00 Closing Remarks: Sarah Fekadu, Fabienne Imlinger, Sandra Ponzanesi