Sarah E. Vaughn is a sociocultural anthropologist working at the intersection of environmental anthropology, critical theory, and science and technology studies. She received her B.A. in 2006 from Cornell University, majoring as a College Scholar with a focus in Anthropology, Sociology, and Inequality Studies. She was awarded a Ph.D. in 2013 from the Department of Anthropology, Columbia University. Her research advances understandings of climate change in the Circum-Caribbean while tracking the affective, ethical, and political components of dignity and belonging. At stake in her research are questions about the role climate change has in shaping the materiality of expertise, an ethics of (re)distribution, and narrative form. She is affiliated with the Center for Science, Technology and Medicine, The Program in Critical Theory, and the Program in Development Engineering.
Her forthcoming book Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation (Duke University Press) explores the weight of history on the frameworks and assemblages of climate adaptation. Each chapter tracks the responses of engineers, ordinary citizens, scientists, military personnel, disaster consultants, and humanitarian workers to climate-related flooding in Guyana, reflecting the surge in state and nongovernmental climate adaptation projects across the world. Their stories dramatize the material and institutional challenges of climate adaptation. They illustrate the historical continuities between the operations of the country’s flood infrastructures and people’s concerns about what they might gain or lose from flooding. At the same time, these stories demonstrate the historical discontinuities climate adaptation renders in Guyana, especially the failures of certain racial political formations to manage flooding in the present. More broadly, their efforts are a reminder that climate adaptation is marked by acts of care and vigilance even as people imagine futures not immune from climatic disaster.
The second book project explores the interface between the meteorological sciences and private/government sector climate risk assessment and data sharing. It highlights how Caribbean governments’ desires for meteorological databases raise questions about the commercial ventures for modeling practices, regional identity indebted to climatic forms (e.g. heat and hurricanes), and the creation of social indicators related to climate change.
Frequently Taught Courses:
Black Atlantic Environments
Climate Change and the Senses
Anthropology of Carbon
Technological Selves and Sociotechnical Systems
On leave Fall 2020-Spring 2021 (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton).
In Progress. “The Afterlives of Innovation: Sea Defense, Credibility, and Climate Adaptation.”
2021. "The Aesthetics and Multiple Origin Stories of Climate Activism." Forum in Social Anthropology, 1-3.
Baker, Janelle, Paulla Ebron, Rosa Ficek, Karen Ho, Renya Ramirez, Zoe Todd, Anna Tsing, and Sarah E. Vaughn. 2020. "The Snarled Lines of Justice." Orion: People and Nature (Winter), 14-21.
2020. “Caribbean Technological Thought and Climate Adaptation.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 24(2(62)): 110-121.
2019. "Vulnerability." In Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon. Edited by Cymene Howe and Anand Pandian. New York: Punctum Books.
2019. "Inundated with Facts: Flooding and the Knowledge Economies of Climate Adaptation in Guyana." In Unmasking the State: Politics, Society, and Economy in Guyana 1992-2005. Edited by Arif Bulkan and D. Alissa Trotz, pp. 479-500. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
2019. [Reprint]. "Disappearing Mangroves: The Epistemic Politics of Climate Adaptation in Guyana." déjà lu 32(2): 441-467.
2018. "The Political Economy of Regions: Climate Change and Dams in Guyana." Radical History Review 131: 105-125.
2017. "Imagining the Ordinary in Participatory Climate Adaptation." Weather, Climate, and Society 9(3): 533-543.
2017. "Disappearing Mangroves: The Epistemic Politics of Climate Adaptation in Guyana." Cultural Anthropology 32(2): 441-467.
2012. "Reconstructing the Citizen: Disaster, Citizenship, and Expertise in Racial Guyana." Critique of Anthropology 32(4): 359-386.
Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation (in progress, Duke University Press)