ORDINARY CLIMATE KNOWLEDGE 


How do individual perceptions and ideas become institutionalised as scientific knowledge? Once institutionalised, such knowledge is immensely powerful: widely shared, perceived as objective, and used as the foundation for further science and policymaking. The production of scientific knowledge, however, is not a straightforward process of unleashing the truth. Science involves extensive entanglements with the state, through funding,1 and in support of policy,2 while dissemination is the result of unpredictable, socially embedded processes.3

Scientific knowledge itself is far from a simple articulation of the truth. In order to make complex, contextualised facts into useful, transposable concepts, science reduces particularities: the specific must be suppressed in order for the generalisable to be identified.4 These abstractions, having sloughed off subjective meanings, are intelligible to distant entities and useful for decision making. The production of scientific knowledge thus frequently subordinates other types of knowing: those that are perceptual, embodied, and grounded in daily experience. Ordinary Knowledge is awareness rooted in lived experience, which gives rise to practices, institutions, and social norms in local communities. Scientific and Ordinary Knowledge conflict, as universal imperatives override local habits. In the context of the environment, abstracted concepts about nature and its changes, or ‘climate facts,’ ask people to “let go of their familiar, comfortable modes of living with nature”5 — modes that often support responsible stewardship of the environment.

These forms of knowledge, however, are also deeply entwined. Scientific knowledge relies on subjective, embedded, local insights for any successful operationalisation.6 But Ordinary Knowledge must also reckon with advances in science, if local practices are going to adjust to new information about climate change. Climate facts are articulated beyond the human scale: planetary rather than local, on the order of centuries rather than seasons. For these abstractions to inform individual and community practices, they must be rearticulated in conjunction with the Ordinary Knowledge of daily life.

Defined by Laura Adler

1. Chandra Mukerji, A Fragile Power: Scientists and the State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

2. Sheila Jasanoff, ‘The Prac- tices of Objectivity in Regulatory Science,’ Social Knowledge in the Making, Charles Camic, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont (eds.), (Chicago, London: Uni- versity Of Chicago Press, 2011).

3. Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, trans. Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

4. Jasanoff, ‘A New Climate for Society’, Theory, Culture & Society 27, 2010, (2–3): 233–53. doi:10.1177/0263276409361497.

5. Jasanoff, 2011, 236.

6. Professor James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).


Image: Justin Brice Guariglia, documentation of Welcome to the Anthropocene (GISTEMP Index 1880-2016), 2016 until deceased. Black carbon tattoo pigment, skin.

On August 29th 2016, the day the International Geological Congress voted 30 to 3 in favor of formally designating the Anthropocene, the artist had NASA’s GISTEMP (global temperature anomalies 5-year mean) index tat- tooed onto his arm. The index tracks, from left to right, global temperature rise from 1880 through 2016, as compiled by NASA’s God- dard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia University.

Mark