Sarah E. Vaughn is a sociocultural anthropologist working at the intersection of environmental anthropology, critical social 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.
Vaughn’s forthcoming book Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation(link is external) (Duke University Press, April 2022) examines climate adaptation against the backdrop of ongoing processes of settler colonialism and the global climate change initiatives that seek to intervene on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable. Her case study is Guyana in the aftermath of the 2005 catastrophic flooding that ravaged the country’s Atlantic coastal plain. The country’s ensuing engineering projects reveal the contingencies of climate adaptation and the capacity of flooding to shape Guyanese expectations about racial (in)equality. Analyzing the coproduction of race and vulnerability, she details why climate adaptation has implications for how we understand the past and the continued human settlement of a place. Such understandings become particularly apparent not only through experts’ and ordinary citizens’ disputes over resources, but in their attention to the ethical practice of technoscience over time. Approaching climate adaptation this way, she exposes the generative openings as well as gaps in racial thinking for theorizing climate action, environmental justice, and more broadly, future life on a warming earth.
The second book project explores the relationship between the meteorological sciences and private-government partnerships in climate risk assessment in the Caribbean. It highlights how ventures, particularly in the (re)insurance industry for open access database development, have structured advances in climate adaptation projects while shaping the aesthetics of natural and built environments.
Vaughn’s research and writing have been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), among others.
Frequently Taught Courses:
Black Atlantic Environments
Climate Change and the Senses
Anthropology of Carbon
Technological Selves and Sociotechnical Systems