Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: social science (page 1 of 9)

NOLA book serendipity

Three books from my AAG trip to New Orleans

Three books from my AAG trip to New Orleans

Bookshelf serendipity strikes again! I can’t resist telling this story, though it was awhile ago. Appropriate to the geography conference I was in town to attend, I bought a compelling atlas of New Orleans by Rebeccas Solnit and Snedeker, Unfathomable City, part of a series at UC Press, at a small bookstore behind the Cabildo. Each map and essay tells an idiosyncratic story about the place, including human and river channel migrations, social and landscape erosions, including social clubs, seafood and sex. While excellent, it wasn’t an easy one to tote in my bag for idle moments.

The ‘take a book, leave a book’ shelf at my hotel filled the gap with But What if We’re Wrong, by pop seer Chuck Klosterman (sorry Columns Hotel, I’ll leave one next time). Klosterman is talking about the same thing that I was at AAG to talk about: climax thinking. He asks how we can learn to make decisions anticipating the many ways that we might be wrong, so we don’t box ourselves in. Instead we denigrate the people who made decisions or assessments we reflect upon today as folly, but assume against evidence that we’re going to be right. There is something to be said about doubt.

Having finished both of the above, I needed another book for the flight home. During a layover in Toronto airport I bought Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowicz. He is a computer scientist who thinks data mining has replaced social science, so a few sections (particularly the conclusion) grated, but this was a fun (and surprisingly dirty) introduction to how secondary online datasets like our Google queries help us learn what people are really thinking and feeling. I have since brought up his examples in a few social science contexts, like the energy incubator at Cornell. I’m loathe to hand it to students, given some of the icky content (people are, it turns out, gross), but as survey response rates drop, offensiphobia rules, and questions around sustainability cross the sociology/psychology boundary, such datasets may well be the only way we can really understand what kind of society we are really working with.

Chignecto wind survey launch

Ellen Chappell addresses her notification postcards in the SRES Hayes Room, March 25, 2018.

Ellen Chappell addresses her notification postcards in the SRES Hayes Room, March 25, 2018.

Great that research design, ethics and funding has finally lined up to allow MES candidate Ellen Chappell to get her survey of residents underway in the Chignecto area of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (around Sackville and Amherst). This multiple-reminder survey is the first out of my lab with the general public rather than farmers. This work is affiliated with the Energy Transitions in Canada SSHRC project led by John Parkins at the University of Alberta. This week the first full survey will be sent, and we cross our fingers for a healthy response rate.

Cornell Energy Incubator

Dylan Bugden chairs our discussion of research best practice.

Dylan Bugden chairs our discussion of research best practice.

Excellent first day here at the ‘Energy Incubator’ invited meeting here at Cornell, sponsored by Rich Stedman‘s social science fellowship at the Atkinson Centre for a Sustainable Future. Mostly Americans, save for Tom Beckley and Louise Comeau (UNB) and I, this group is gender- and experience-balanced and engaged in research across a range of energy/society issues: landscape, justice, gender, ‘booms’, impacts on other industries (ag), etc.

Getting started at the Energy Incubator.

Getting started at the Energy Incubator.

We started with short bursts on the more or less ‘half-baked’ ideas people pitched up before we came–at the half-baked end I talked about my ideas for an enpathy engine (that is, energy empathy) to combat climax thinking. We then brainstormed best practice for energy impacts research and broke into groups for some more focused discussions, which is what we’ll spend today doing. We then had a chance to explore the stunning Ithaca campus on the way to dinner.

The small hydro facility on the Cornell campus.

The small hydro facility on the Cornell campus.

Our meeting today was held in a beautiful centre at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but the gracious campus buildings are also nestled beside stunning gorges that tumble down to the townsite. There is even a small hydroelectricity dam that provides power to the campus (probably a project of the Engineering school)? Sign me up, Cornell. 

Ithaca is Gorges!

Ithaca is Gorges!

Jeffrey Jacquet tours us around Cornell's gorges.

Jeffrey Jacquet tours us around Cornell’s gorges.

Rangeland social science meeting

Lynn Huntsinger and Tracy Hruska at a cafe in Reno, the biggest little city in the world

Lynn Huntsinger and Tracy Hruska at a cafe in Reno, the biggest little city in the world

I am in Sparks, Nevada, at an invited meeting of rangeland social scientists (RSS) organized by Hailey Wilmer and Mark Brunson before the Society for Range Management meeting. I arrived in San Francisco late Friday to visit with Berkeley professor Lynn Huntsinger and her UNevada Geography professor husband Paul Starrs. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the harbour was stunning as the sun set, and Paul’s posole a delight. The next morning Lynn and I transected California’s many landscapes and production systems up across the snowy Sierra Nevada (and the notorious Donner Pass), with two of her Berkeley lab PhD students, Tracy Hruska and Sheila Barry.

DRI research professor Tamara Wall prepares to chair us in our RSS unconference

DRI research professor Tamara Wall prepares to chair us in our RSS unconference

Both Sheila and Tracy have led papers or chapters I really like, so it was the beginning of a day full of happy name recognition. Awaiting us at the lovely Desert Research Institute where the RSS meeting was being held: thirty more people  whose work I have enjoyed and cited since my Australian post-doc. Simply meeting them has made the trip worthwhile, and hearing kind words of appreciation in turn a bonus, particularly for my new commentary on standalone social science in rangelands. The meeting is following an un-conference format, which is new to me, but allowed for a very egalitarian agenda design, and productive discussions in small groups and together. I joined a group on community-building and integration, where those from a mix of career stages discussed the importance of an attractive career script for RSS practitioners, and how this nascent community could help. We’ll pick up some of the threads later today for day two of the un-meeting.

 

The last dam paper (?)

New Brunswick, with dots representing survey respondents, coloured by their Mactaquac preference.

New Brunswick, with dots representing survey respondents, coloured by their Mactaquac preference.

Coincidentally, given the previous post, the last paper out of research that Energy Transitions in Canada undertook on the Mactaquac decision came out today in Water Alternatives. This new open source paper features both qualitative and quantitative analysis of a randomized proportional survey of 500 New Brunswickers implemented back in 2014, before the official public engagement campaign began in earnest. We compare the results of that survey against insights from our qualitative fieldwork with local residents, undertaken in 2013-2014. The paper describes how and why the local and provincial discourses came to align.  It is part of a special issue on dam removal, so thanks to co-editors Chris Sneddon, Régis Barraud, and Marie-Anne Germaine for their hard work on the collection.

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