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.

Spring 2013 Lectures

February 1 - Geographies of Eco-Certification
Peter Vandergeest
York University, Toronto

This presentation will explore what a grounded geographical approach can offer to the ways that we understand eco-certification. Eco-certification has been spreading rapidly to diverse resource sectors around the world, framed as a response to a lack of effective state action with respect protecting the environment, as well as to a need for verifying compliance with environmental standards. Criticisms and debates have emerged, however, around various issues including the appropriate location of authority; overlaps and conflicts between competing eco-certification schemes; what kinds of ecological knowledge should ‘count’ in eco-certification, how knowledge should be produced and authenticated and by whom; and the equity implications for small-scale producers of potentially exclusive and expensive eco-certifications. These tensions are especially visible when eco-certification standards created largely in the North are effectively imposed on producers and resource managers in the Global South. This presentation will focus on how these debates play out in an Asian context where the presumed inadequacy of state action takes on added meanings linked to sensitivity to regionally-specific histories of imperialism and orientalism. I will also highlight how eco-certification can be understood as a manifestation of an audit society where private governance territories and new kinds of expertise are produced through the creation of ecological knowledge, in response to a demand for verification for the purpose of eco-labeling and realizing value from environmental protection.

February 8 - Moving from Participation to Analysis: Constructing GeoInquiry
Bill Buckingham
UW-Madison, Applied Population Lab

Qualitative data have long been relegated to the sidelines of GIS. However, the emergence of New Spatial Media has opened GIS not only to the incorporation of qualitative data through the Geoweb, but also to the integration of analysis in a non-expert GIS environment. Connecting participatory GIS, New Media, qualitative GIS and geovisualization, GeoInquiry offers a framework that both opens qualitative analysis up beyond the technical software implementations, as well as making visual geographic analysis more accessible as well. This talk will describe the development of a new framework for qualitative spatial data handling and analysis – GeoInquiry. I will detail the background development, technical implementation, theoretical underpinnings and discuss one implementation of GeoInquiry in a health based small area study.

February 15 - Using Historical Records to Help Predict the Future: The Public Land Survey, 19th Century Climate and the PalEON Project
Simon Goring
UW-Madison Geography Department

Predicting the response of organisms to changing climates in the 21st century is a major conservation challenge. Standard practice uses the relationship between modern species ranges and climate to predict future distributions under various future climate scenarios. The widespread and significant land use conversion in North America, particularly in the upper Midwest, challenges the basic assumptions of this model. I use historical records of vegetation and climate to build a better understanding of the state of forests in the upper Midwest prior to European settlement. Pre-settlement forests show significantly different structure and composition than modern forests, and our interpretations of the kinds of climates that tree species can occupy is likely to be affected by the broad-scale changes brought about by agricultural conversion. This analysis forms part of the broader PalEON project, and I will highlight how the information we gain from historical data can inform and improve our estimates of future climate change, species distributions and, ultimately help inform conservation planning in the 21st century.  Slides from this talk can be found here.


February 22 - Cultural Diversity and the Ideal of Progress
Yi-Fu Tuan
Professor Emeritus, UW-Madison Geography Department

We are all for cultural diversity and we are all for progress, but isn't there a contradiction between these two aspirations? Cultural diversity is by its nature conservative: it seeks to retain the tradition and color of the different ways of livelihood. Progress, understood as advance into the modern age, is by its nature leveling, introducing shopping malls and skyscrapers everywhere and destructive of cultural diversity. Yet we want progress, in some sense, don’t we? Can the two aspirations be reconciled? My answer is yes, but in the experience of cosmopolitan individuals. In the future, will more and more people become such individuals, as students and faculty at the university already are?

March 1 - What is Land? Making-up a Resource
Tania Murray Li
Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

The so-called global land rush has drawn new attention to land, its uses and value. But land is a strange object. Although it is often treated as a thing and sometimes as a commodity, it isn’t like a mat: you can’t roll it up and take it away. To turn it to productive use requires regimes of exclusion that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses and users, and inscribe boundaries through devices such as fences, title deeds, laws, zones, regulations, landmarks and story-lines. Its very "resourceness" isn't an intrinsic or natural quality. It is an assemblage of materialities, relations, technologies, and discourses that have to be pulled together and made to align. To render it investible, more work is needed. This talk explores how land is made up, paying particular attention to the inscription devices that produce land as an abstract space of given quantity (a hectare), and render it investible by enabling comparison of utility, value, and risk.


March 8 - Timing is everything: especially for wildlife survival in a warmer world
Alison Donnelly
UW-Milwaukee Geography Department

It is well established that the average temperature of our planet has risen by approximately 0.7°C over the past century and that this increase is primarily driven by human activity. What interests me is whether or not we can detect a response, to this apparently small rise in temperature, in our local wildlife. In order to address this issue, we examined historical records of the timing of plant and animal development stages (phenology) that are triggered by temperature. When spring temperature is warmer than average, due to climate change for example, we expect budburst on trees to occur earlier in the season, migratory birds to arrive earlier and insects to appear earlier. On examination of the date of bud burst of a number of tree species over a 40-year period we concluded that this phenological event is occurring earlier now than 40 years ago. In addition, we showed that the main driver of this earlier trend was a rise in average spring temperature in Ireland. This trend towards earlier phenology in plants may have implications for other species, which depend upon these trees as a food supply. If the food supply (plants/leaves) is available before it is required by the herbivore (caterpillar) a mismatch in timing between such interdependent species may occur. Our data show that not all wildlife is responding to spring warming at the same rate thus indicating the potential for further mismatches to occur as spring temperatures rise in future.


March 15 - Five Truths of Storytelling, Co-authorship and Alliance Work
Richa Nagar
University of Minnesota

Co-authoring stories is a chief tool by which those who work in alliances across borders mobilize experience to write against relations of power that produce social violence, and to imagine and enact their own visions and ethics of social change. Such work demands a serious engagement with the complexities of identity, representation, and political imagination as well as a rethinking of the assumptions and possibilities associated with engagement and expertise. This presentation draws upon partnerships with co-authors in India and the US to analyze how story telling across sociopolitical, geographical, national, and institutional borders can enhance critical engagement with questions of violence and struggles for social change, while also troubling dominant discourses and methodologies inside and outside of the academy. In offering five “truths” about co-authoring stories through alliance work, it reflects on the labor process, assumptions, possibilities, and risks associated with co-authorship as a tool for mobilizing intellectual spaces in which stories from multiple locations in an alliance can speak with one another and evolve into more nuanced and effective critical interventions. The presentation ends with a translated excerpt from a play I co-authored with members of Sangin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan, Aag Lagi Hai Jangal Ma (The forest is burning). Even as this scene articulates the profound ways in which rural lives and livelihoods are continually violated by structures of power and by own complicities with those structures, it calls for continuing to place our hopes in fighting, dreaming, writing and singing together.


April 5 - Glaciers: A window into anthropogenic perturbation of the global carbon cycle
Robert Spencer
Woods Hole Research Center

Glaciers and ice sheets combined represent the second largest reservoir of water in the global hydrologic system and glacier ecosystems cover 10% of the Earth, yet the carbon dynamics underpinning these ecosystems remain poorly understood. Increased understanding of glacier biogeochemistry is a priority, as glacier environments are among the most sensitive to climate warming and industrial forcing. Research will be presented highlighting glacier-derived organic matter to represent a quantitatively significant energy subsidy of ancient, yet highly bioavailable carbon to downstream ecosystems. This finding runs counter to logical perceptions of age-reactivity relationships, in which the least reactive material withstands degradation the longest and is therefore the oldest. Data will be presented from snow, glacier surface water and ice, and from glacier outflows to determine the origin of glacier organic matter. Lignin content and optical properties demonstrate that glacier dissolved organic matter was not of forest or peatland origin. Instead, radiocarbon dating and ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry revealed that aerosols from fossil fuel burning are a source of pre-aged organic matter to glacier surfaces. This anthropogenic carbon is then exported relatively unchanged in glacier outflows. As deposition is a global phenomenon, we propose that all ecosystems receive this windfall of ancient carbon. In vibrant ecosystems, it is presumably rapidly processed and its signal lost. On frigid glaciers, these inputs standout, making glaciers sentinel ecosystems for the detection and study of perturbation to global ecosystems through anthropogenic deposition.


April 19 - Planning, Insurgent Publics and the Cultural Politics of Governance in ‘Post-Conflict’ Nepal
Katherine Rankin
University of Toronto

In 2006, Nepal emerged from a decade-long Maoist insurgency and a centuries-old Hindu monarchy to form a secular republic. Now joining ongoing donor efforts to institutionalize liberal safeguards for ‘good governance’ and ‘civil society’ are a critically conscious peasantry and a burgeoning public sphere. In this conjuncture, Nepal presents a case where an alternative paradigm for Asia is being articulated, one being carefully watched to determine if society and economy can be radically democratized through a state framework. This presentation explores how people understand and enact ‘democracy’ in moments of fluid local governance, and how these enactments impact state restructuring and the possibility of overcoming structural inequalities at the root of violent conflict. It focuses on three key terrains of local governance: forest management, infrastructure development and food security. These have emerged as particularly significant sites of struggle over democratic futures in poor agrarian districts where the cultural politics of governance are getting worked out in practice. I argue that in order to anticipate the prospects for long-term stability, or to identify progressive and regressive potential in the current conjuncture, it is necessary to engage the messy assemblages of governance projects, planning practices and political subjectivities through which the everyday state intersects with everyday lives. It is here that we find the most formidable reassertions of caste and feudal hegemony, the severest implications of global incorporation, as well as the most practical experimentations with actually doing redistributive justice and economic democracy.


April 26 - Ecological Uncertainty at the Intersection of Climate Change, Global Change, and Human Perception
Evan Larson
UW-Plattville Geography Department

The world is changing rapidly and often in dramatic ways. Climate change, invasive species, and human land use are interacting to produce myriad, cascading ecological effects that fundamentally alter the dynamics of ecosystems. Understanding the specific mechanisms and trajectories of these changes is challenging, however, due to the unprecedented nature of current events. These challenges are amplified when we consider the limited temporal perspective from which we, as humans, observe and understand our world. The case of whitebark pine, a foundational species of high-elevation ecosystems throughout western North America, exemplifies the situation. Besieged by exotic invasive species, native pests potentially released by climate change to new environments, and the nearly pervasive influences of humans and fire suppression, whitebark pine is a species of extreme conservation concern, so much so to inspire a petition to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Critically examining the plight of whitebark pine, supplemented by paleoecological data, however, identifies important uncertainty that holds implications for responses to change around the world.


May 3 - Alternative food networks: possibilities, limitations, futures
Ryan Galt
University of California - Davis, Department of Human Ecology

Over the last few years I have been conducting research on Community Supported Agriculture in California, and I have been overseeing numerous graduate students' research into various aspects of alternative food networks (AFNs), including work focused on food hubs, values-based supply chains, food justice practice, farmworker well-being, and farmers; economic compensation. In this talk I address some of the questions that my graduate students and I have been asking about AFNs in California as we seek to subject them to empirical examination. Questions addressed include: Since AFNs are supposed to create a more just food system, to what extent are AFNs providing for the economic well-being of farmers and farmworkers? As efforts are made to scale up AFNs beyond direct marketing, how is this being done, and are the benefits being fairly distributed? How are racism and whiteness being addressed or ignored within AFNs and allied efforts to promote healthy, local diets? What are the positive and negative consequences of relying upon market-based strategies for AFNs? Among other findings, we have documented self-exploitation by AFN farmers, hunger amongst farmworkers employed in AFNs, challenges facing food hubs that cause them to fail, but we have also seen very positive transformations, such as personal empowerment for many working in AFNs, a rapid spread of alternatives ways of connection production and consumption, and improved environmental practices. Overall we have found that important tensions persist even within the increased social embeddedness of AFNs, yet we have also started to identify important strategies for managing these tensions. I attempt to bring together these complexities to better understand the future of AFNs in California.