University of Wisconsin–Madison

Yi-Fu Tuan Lecture Archive

Yi-Fu Tuan in a classroom

The Yi-Fu Lecture Series features a wide variety of U.S. and international guest lecturers from all geographic disciplines. Lecturers at these Friday seminars also often speak at brown-bag lunches, one-on-one student sessions, and breakfast meetings with student interest groups as part of their visit. Doctoral students are invited to present their final research. The lecture series was initiated by Dr. Tuan (pictured at left) and receives enthusiastic support as a department and campus tradition.

All lectures are presented on Friday at 3:30pm in Science Hall - Rm 180 unless otherwise noted. Alumni, friends and the public are always invited to attend.

Fall 2009 Lectures

September 18 - Using GIS to enhance health geography: spatial approaches to health services, population health and spatial epidemiology
Nadine Schuurman
Simon Fraser University

Public and population health constitute a broad field in which geographers work in many niches. This talk, rather than focusing on a particular sub-field, emphasizes ways in which GIScience has been used by my lab to pursue research questions in health services, population health and spatial epidemiology. My goal is to describe ways in which the data handling and analysis capacity of GIS can be applied strategically – and productively – to address complex spatial issues. Beginning with health services research, I outline a method for calculating service catchments around particular health services. The middle section of the talk describe how the catchment methodology was used in conjunction with socio-economic status indicators to determine the optimal location for new trauma services in British Columbia. In the third section, I illustrate how mapping of spatial events can provide the basis for a more focused qualitative analysis of environmental factors that affect the risk of pedestrian injury. Finally, I provide a brief introduction to our ongoing work in injury surveillance in South Africa. Each of the vignettes illustrated in the talk supports the premise that GIS provides the basis for integrating the three main components of public and population health.

September 25 - Alumni lecture: Geographies of Environmental Change: The Case of the West African Sahel
Matthew Turner
University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Geography" is seemingly increasingly popular. The spatial turn in the sciences (social and biophysical) and the recognition of the "power of place" in the humanities has led to significant borrowing of geographical concepts and language across the academy. Geographers have responded to this attention with mixed feelings -- not only have many of the borrowings reproduced our mistakes of the past but what is seen as "geographical" is only superficially so. To explore the power of a truly geographical approach, this talk presents a case for a place-based geographical approach to international environmental questions. The attention to place in environmental research is not new but unfortunately is increasingly scarce in regions such as the Sahel are treated as if they were "placeless" -- ecologically uniform, socially reduced, and without history. Examples from a set of communities in the Fakara area of western Niger will be used to show how place-based, mixed-methods research can be used to address two important environmental questions for the Sahelian region poorly addressed by dominant environmental scientific approaches: 1. the social and environmental factors affecting grazing patterns; and 2. the relationship between soil quality variation and social relations.

October 9 - Soil organic matter dynamics across different spatial scales: from site level to microparticles
Carsten Müller
Penn State, TUM Germany

Soils play a major role in the global carbon (C) cycle as they represent the largest terrestrial C reservoir. In the context of climate change, the large soil C pool gains a lot of interest as it is very sensitive to changing land-use and associated management regimes and thus can have a strong influence on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. To understand changing soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics and thus alterations in the C cycle it is crucial to understand the mechanisms that preserve soil C over centuries to millennia. Generally, the literature refers to three main mechanisms of SOM stabilization: (1) recalcitrance or the intrinsic molecular chemistry that makes it hard to degrade, (2) physical protection, i.e. spatial inaccessibility in aggregated soil structures and (3) organo-mineral associations. To evaluate those mechanisms, the differentiation of SOM into pools with different composition and turnover is essential. This separation of SOM pools, mostly done by physical fractionation, facilitates the understanding of SOC stabilization but also SOC destabilization due to human impacts. This talk will describe research on altered C dynamics due to historic land-use changes and soil disturbance spanning from the field site level to laboratory studies on much smaller spatial and temporal scales. The talk aims to show how the study of SOM processes at different scales is important to explain ecosystem C cycles. The talk will conclude with recent work on the applicability of "terrestrial" fractionation methods to sediments and the application of a new technique, NanoSIMS (secondary ion mass spectrometry) to SOM research.

October 23 - The limits of 'neoliberal nature': Reflections on post-neoliberalism and the end of nature
Karen Bakker
University of British Columbia

The doctrine that our interactions with nature should be governed by the market--variously termed ‘neoliberal nature, ‘market environmentalism’ or ‘natural capitalism’, depending on one’s ideological leanings—has received growing attention across a range of disciplines. This doctrine has been applied in a staggeringly wide variety of places and to a broad range of resources over the past few decades. Scholars have recently devoted considerable energy to the study of the resulting phenomena of ‘neoliberal natures’: carbon markets, water privatization, debt-for-nature swaps, gene patenting, and tradable wetlands, to name just a few. This research is usually characterized as an intervention into two controversial debates: the struggle over the political economic project conventionally labeled, at least in geographical circles, as ‘neoliberalism’; and the acceptability and efficacy of markets and private ownership as solutions to the world’s putative environmental crisis. This paper discusses ongoing debates over conceptual strategies for analyzing the proliferation of ‘neoliberal natures’, and explores two critiques of the neoliberal nature research agenda: the call to move ‘beyond neoliberalism’ as a conceptual framework and political project; and a call to move ‘beyond nature’ as an ontological category. This does not imply an abandonment of these terms (nor an endorsement, in the former case, of a putative post-neoliberalism), but rather a dialogue between scholars working from a political economic tradition and those working from political ecological, cultural, and environmental geographical traditions. The productive tensions that arise through this framing are reflective, I will argue, of broader tensions within scholarship on nature-society relations.

October 30 - Eventful Geographies!
Robert Kaiser
University of Wisconsin-Madison

This talk uses Deleuze’s understanding of events as immanent to bodies and objects that become actualized or that materialize in states of affairs. With actualization or materialization, events produce new, transformed bodies and objects, and along with them new event-spaces, through processes of de- and re-territorialization. In terms of nation and state, deterritorializing processes challenge both the orderly striated space of states and the social norms that performatively produce nation-ness, while re-territorializations work to re-store the hegemonic power of Nation and State through a process of retroduction – the retrospective production of understandings of actualized events that conforms with the national and Static order of things, and so allow for the capture, control and containment – or harnessing – of the power unleashed by events in their actualizations in the interests of Nation and State. Deleuze argues in favor of the continuation of deterritorializing lines of flight, where transformative potential lies. Events in their actualization expose such transformative potential. I use the Estonia’s bronze night event of April 2007 to work through this eventful approach, and conclude with a brief discussion of the transformative potential of "becoming-stateless" made visible by this event.

November 6 - Ecological responses to climatic change: insights from the (relatively) recent past
Jessica Blois
UW-Madison, Geography

Understanding how communities have responded and will continue to respond to environmental change is a primary goal of both paleoecology and modern ecology. The transition from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene provides a good model for understanding biological response to climatic warming and other types of environmental change. However, much of the paleontological focus has been on the extinct megafaunal community and not on the response of the small mammals that survived the end-Pleistocene extinction event and form the bulk of the present mammalian community. In order to understand the complete community response to environmental change at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, I excavated a fossil deposit from Samwel Cave in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California. The deposit, a woodrat midden and sometime carnivore den, contained thousands of bones, primarily from small mammals. AMS-radiocarbon dates show that the deposit was formed in a relatively continuous and constant depositional environment, which provides a glimpse of fine-scale changes to the small mammal community with minimal time averaging. Overall, members of the small mammal community showed a variety of responses to environmental change at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, including body size, abundance, and genetic diversity changes, leading to, on balance, a sharp decrease in species richness, diversity, and evenness at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. I examined these changes in the context of broader changes in the fauna and flora of the region against the changing climates of the Pleistocene and Holocene. These data show that the California small mammal community was significantly impacted by climate change and megafaunal extinction at the end of the Pleistocene, much the same as these animals are impacted today and into the future. I further discuss these findings, as well as more recent work initiated at UW-Madison with Jack Williams.

November 13 - Cross-border higher education, authoritarianism, and the global governance of academic freedom
Kris Olds
University of Wisconsin-Madison


November 20 - Climate change, capitalism, and the challenge of transdisciplinarity
Joel Wainwright
Ohio State

After decades of research, a global scientific consensus has emerged concerning climate change, supported by a growing body of observations and a clearer understanding of the underlying mechanisms of change. A new urgency has grown among many scientists for policies to address climate change, resulting in unprecedented investments by scientists in public education and, in some cases, political activism. In this talk, Wainwright examines these changes to reflect on how they could reshape geography, a discipline that appears well-positioned to advance transdisciplinary research. He asks: in light of the intellectual and political urgency of transdisciplinary climate research, why have we seen so little substantive collaboration across the science/social science divide? The answer, he will argue, stems from differences between research in natural science, on one hand, and the social sciences and humanities, on the other. To address these issues, they must be understood. To develop this argument, Wainwright turns to a little-known essay by Albert Einstein.

December 4 - Southeast Asian Megadroughts, Hydroclimatic Extremes, and the Demise of Angkor
Edward Cook
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The 'hydraulic city' of Angkor, the capitol of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, experienced decades long drought interspersed with intense monsoons at the turn of the 14th century that contributed to its collapse. The climatic evidence comes from a seven and a half century robust hydroclimate reconstruction from tropical southern Vietnamese tree rings. The Angkor droughts were of a duration and severity that would have impacted the sprawling city’s water supply and agricultural productivity, while high magnitude monsoon years damaged its water control infrastructure. Hydroclimate variability for this region is strongly and inversely correlated with tropical Pacific sea surface temperature, indicating that a warm Pacific and El Niño events induce drought at interannual and interdecadal time scales, and that low frequency variations of tropical Pacific climate can exert significant influence over Southeast Asian climate and society.