ICARUS: Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences

Vulnerability and adaptation are key concepts in the social science literature on climate change. They have long inter-linked histories. Scholars of development, disaster management and mitigation, hunger, famine, and migration, and ecological systems have contributed insights on the meanings and drivers of vulnerability. Development of systematic ideas about adaptation continues to occur in a variety of fields – in both the ecological and the social sciences. The ways these writings are applicable to understanding and intervening in climate-related stresses, crises and responses remain vigorous arenas query and debate. In recent years there have been many calls (by IPCC, NSF, Stern Review and others) for greater social science engagement in climate research. ICARUS responds to these calls.


 Call for Abstracts: ICARUS V

Climate Social Science: Towards a transformative science of climate change

The 5th International Conference of the Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences (ICARUS), June 30 – July 2, 2016

Venue: India School of Business, Hyderabad, India

Governmental, social, and household level responses to future climate change must be undertaken despite substantial uncertainty about the location, intensity, frequency, and disruptive potential of many climate impacts and ongoing social transformations. At the same time, responses to climate change must occur in the context of policy systems and political relations that are often highly unequal and resistant to change. It is precisely for these reasons that greater systematic knowledge of the constraints on human responses to this variability assumes critical importance. Historical and contemporary patterns of vulnerability and adaptation, in contrast to inferences derived mechanistically from projected future climate impacts, share a key characteristic with the kind of human responses that are desirable: they occurred in response to climatic phenomena as these were experienced in concrete social, economic, cultural, and political settings.

Concrete human responses to climate change need greater scholarly and research attention. We invite papers for the 5th ICARUS Conference that advance a deeper understanding ofhow such responses emerge in specific settings, as derived through fine-resolution social science research. The crucible of responses to climate change – crafted by the multiple ways in which the past, the present, and the future overlap and interact – needs to be understood at different temporal and spatial scales of its contingent formation rather than being derived mechanistically purely through analysis of presumed climate impacts.

In pursuing this broad vision of a transformative science of climate change, we suggest the following three sub-themes for paper abstracts:

  1. Security in Diversity: Among scholars of livelihoods, diversity has long been viewed as a central determinant of livelihood security. At the unit level, be it households, firms, regions, or economic sectors, it is assumed that diverse income streams help to guard against the failure of any single source or productive activity, while a diversity of production strategies helps to ensure the integrity of production systems more generally. At the household level, this diversity is rooted in both the constraints and opportunities that different households face, structured by endowments of assets, access to natural resources, participation in commodity and labor markets, and benefits from a broad array of public assistance programs, among other factors.

Papers under this theme will seek to disentangle the myriad factors and relationships that influence productive strategies to better understand the ways that diversity functions in concrete settings. What kinds of diversity should be valued, and with respect to which livelihoods and which assets? How should different kinds of diversity be compared — and at what scales? Under what circumstances might diversity serve to diminish livelihood security rather that promote it? We invite papers that trace the casual pathways through which diversity enhances livelihood security (or undermines it) and advance understanding of the role of public assistance in advancing desired outcomes.

  1. Topographies of Governance: A long tradition of scholarship has sought to investigate the multi-faceted ways that citizens encounter state institutions and the implications of these interactions for human welfare and development outcomes. A dominant strand of this scholarship has focused on the ways that citizens’ interactions with state institutions are mediated by a variety of social, political, and bureaucratic interlocutors and, as such, are often governed by extra-constitutional forms of social power as much as (or more than) formal rights, entitlements, and stated policy goals. While these forms of informal ‘political mediation’ may provide crucial channels of access for citizens that lack the ability to interact with state institutions directly, they also often reinforce patterns of exclusion. We refer to these as uneven topographies of governance because they ‘bend’ differently around individuals of contrasting social, economic, and political positions and in relation to geographically-distributed centers of power. At the same time, these topographies are also constantly being reworked through new institutions, strategies of governance, and forms of political practice — a process which will continue through the reinvention of programs and policies through greater attention to climate risk and change.

In this theme, we seek to explore how different types of relationships structure the ways that public resources and programs are brought to bear upon vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. Several sub-themes present themselves, including: (a) the networks of social and political relationships through which citizens gain access to resources and benefits from multiple state agencies, (b) the ways that citizens seek leverage on public services through democratic institutions and processes at multiple scales, and(c) the means through which powerful social groups continue to reproduce patterns of dominance and exclusion through control over public resources. Research under this theme aims to provide empirical evidence on the multitude of ways in which citizens encounter public institutions within an ever-changing topography of governance and the implications of these interactions for vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

  1. Technology and Society: Over the last two decades, the salience of technology in proposals for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change has increased exponentially. Ranging from the construction of sea walls and cloud seeding to biochar and mini-grids, technology has become enmeshed in debates around responses to climate change from household to global scales. Information and communication technologies, it is fervently believed, have the potential to improve bargaining power by providing access to market prices, provide a platform for building larger information networks, and improve access to specialized knowledge and resources. And yet, despite this celebration of technology, there remains surprisingly limited social science research on the ways that these technologies are incorporated into livelihoods and the ways that they, in turn, alter the economic and life opportunities of their users (as well as their limitations in doing so).

This theme aims to build critical understandings of the ways that specific instantiations oftechnology have altered production strategies and networks or reconfigured patterns of exposure to climate risk — with implications for social relationships, economic opportunities, and the susceptibilities of those most vulnerable to climate change. We seek papers that attend to the social dimensions of technology, including but not limited to: (a) institutional pathways for specific technologies to lead to changes in vulnerability to climate-related risks, (b) mechanisms through which technology is implicated in  adaptation actions (information, efficiency, productivity), and (c) the role of intellectual property and ownership of technology in its transformative potential.

Participation and Format

The conference will include multiple formats – regular paper sessions, speed presentations, round table discussions, and plenary talks. We have a small amount of funding available to support participation, especially for students and paper authors located in low-income countries.

Applications, Deadline, and Timeline

To apply for the meeting, please submit a 200 word abstract that outlines your contribution in relation to one of the themes above.

Deadline: Abstracts must be submitted on or before 5pm Indian Standard Time on February 20, 2016.

Successful submissions will be notified on or before March 4, 2016.

Location and Venue:

The Fifth ICARUS Global Meeting will be held at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India. This is the first time that ICARUS is being held outside of the United States and in the developing world. While we hope to have many attendees from the US and Europe as before, we also hope that the location will make the conference more accessible and affordable to scholars and practitioners elsewhere in the developing world.

Hyderabad is a dynamic city of 6.8 million (metropolitan area) and an economic and cultural center of growing importance both within India and internationally. Attractions include the famed ‘Char Minar’ monument at the heart of the old city as well as – please elaborate or edit as necessary…

Hyderabad has a comparatively moderate climate compared to many other parts of India. The peak of summer heat is in May, but temperatures decline by mid-June after the monsoon sets in. By late June the weather is likely to be warm but pleasant. The bulk of monsoon rains tend to occur later in the summer (July-August), and they are seldom disruptive in these parts.

The conference and accommodations will be on the campus of the Indian School of Business (ISB) at Hyderabad. One of the premier business schools in India, ISB is located in a scenic campus with large open spaces and natural areas. The facilities are modern and comfortable; campus is easily accessed from the Hyderabad’s main airport.

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport is well connected to the rest of the world and has direct flights to Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia as well as most large cities in India. Please note that most foreign nationals will require a visa to enter India. Although citizens of some countries are now eligible for a ‘visa-on-arrival’ scheme, this nevertheless requires advanced registration online well before your scheduled departure. Citizens of many countries will require a visa in advance. In either case, we recommend that you research your specific requirements carefully and begin making plans several months in advance just to make sure that everything is taken care of in adequate time.

Registration Costs:

To make ICARUS sustainable, we are requesting a registration fee of $100 for students and individuals from low-income countries and $200 for everyone else. This fee includes accommodation on the campus of the Indian School of Business for three nights as well as all meals. Accommodation will be shared – two to a room – with other conference attendees, arranged by gender. Individual rooms may be available in some instances for payment.

We are presently trying to raise funds for travel support for presenters from other developing countries. There is a section on the submission form to indicate whether you would like to be considered for travel support.

Please write to icarus_v@isb.edu for any additional questions and clarifications



Keeping a cool head

“Social scientists must make more comprehensive and engaged contributions, and take the lead in furthering the analysis of climate-change issues and identifying effective response to climate stresses at different scales, in different sectors, and for different groups of vulnerable peoples” argue the co-founders of ICARUS in a recent editorial, entitled “Cool heads for a hot world- social sciences under a changing sky”, published in the May 2012 issue of Global Environmental Change. To read the full article click here

The authors state that, “Because the causes of vulnerability and the effects of adaptive solutions are contested and controversial, cool analytic heads are needed to reflect on comfort and well-being in a warming world. Social scientists [being these cool and analytic] can bring critical perspectives on cause, effect and controversy; they can engage with policy processes; and help solve the multi-faceted problems that climate change will inevitably make more visible, urgent, and complex.”

The authors compare climate change vulnerability and adaptation to the story of Icarus, the son of the master craftsman Daedalus in Greek mythology. Despite many warnings from his father, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melted his wax wings, and fell. The authors explain that, “As our society risks a scorching from the sun, Icarus is an appropriate cautionary tale to inspire for social-science engagement. Maybe, with advance planning, Daedalus could have invented the parachute, providing Icarus a soft landing – [a] well-adapted ending.” Today, Icarus is society itself. The authors conclude: “We need cool and engaged social science reflection to identify the causes of risk and adaptive pathways forward – so we might guide society to land standing.” To read an unpublished extended version of this article click here