Climates Fetishized: Ideologies of Climatological Citizenship in the Long Nineteenth Century

28-01-2021 at 14:00
Vladimir Jankovic (University of Manchester)

You are cordially invited to attend the next Sarton Centre, Ghent/Venice HPS Seminar, which will take place via Zoom. Please find all the relevant information below.


Time: Jan 28, 2021 02:00 PM Brussels


Speaker: Prof. Vladimir Jankovic (University of Manchester,


Title: Climates Fetishized: Ideologies of Climatological Citizenship in the Long Nineteenth Century


Abstract: Fetishism occurs when the mind ‘ceases to realize that it has itself created the outward images or things to which subsequently it posits itself as in some sort of subservient relation’ (Simpson 1982). In this paper I use fetishism in a broadly Marxian sense to think the socio-political role of climate discourse in the long nineteenth century. The main thrust of the exercise is to work towards deconstructing a widely shared understanding of climate as an infrastructure of social mores and material life associated with the geographic imaginaries of local and national identities. A medical primer from 1862 asserted, for example, that ‘climate is the sum of all those physical forces which by their operation upon the constitutions of organized bodies prohibit their permanent migration from one region of the Earth to another.’ I wish to explore whether and how such (Humboldtian) views drew on the scientific and vernacular ideas about the so-called 'native airs' and 'hereditary climates' that, in the literary, scientific and artistic registers of the long nineteenth century, implicated the existence of a xenophobic ‘climatological citizenship.’ I argue that the scientific and popular allusions to the existence of climatological citizenship served contemporary geographers, physicians, and political philosophers in their bid to elevate ‘climate’ to the level of political agency that could essentialize human/racial traits, naturalize politics, support providential readings of history, and perpetuate stereotypes about the relationship between natural environments and of social development. Apart from an intrinsic historical interest in the ideology of these gestures, the paper asks whether climate fetishism continues to exert an influence on contemporary thinking that may need critical unpacking.


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