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ABS Seminar: Impacts of Climate Variation on Culture and Society

The lecture held by Dr. Kassam focused on how a society’s environment is the foundation of their culture, listing case studies of indigenous peoples of Alaska and Canada who rely on the sea ice to survive, and how their culture is affected by a changing environment.

Dr. Kasssam described culture as a triangle. On the three points are values, cultural systems, and social structure. Synthesis or conflict connect these three aspects of a culture. He went on to say that the foundation of a culture is their environment, whether that be in the Alaskan wilderness or in an urban landscape. All societal knowledge has a heavy contextual nature. He gave an example of an indigenous medicine man in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan who adapted to modern life, claiming to have forgotten most of his traditional knowledge. But when he walked with Dr. Kassam through the mountains, a lot of that knowledge came back to him, and he was able to list 17 species of plants and their medicinal effects. Without the context in the specific environment, that knowledge was useless and forgotten. Only in that specific environment did the medicine man’s remember the traditional knowledge that he had once known.

Dr. Kassam went on to conclude that knowledge is in the engagement, in the environment, and that changes to an environment can be detrimental to the society that is based around that environment.

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