Anthropology prof discusses science and indigenous tradition tomorrow

Karen Pennesi, an anthropology professor at the University of Western Ontario, will look at the interplay of science and tradition tomorrow as part of the 2009-2010 Research Seminar Series presented by York’s Science & Technology Studies (STS) Program.

Pennesi will present “The Construction of ‘Science’ and ‘Tradition’ in Prediction Performances” Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 12:30 to 2pm, in Norman’s, 203A Bethune College, Keele campus.

The focus of Pennesi’s research ha been to examine the mediating function of language in human relationships with nature. She is currently investigating the role weather and climate forecasts play in different socio-cultural contexts, including in the rural communities of Northeast Brazil and the Inuit communities in Nunavut. 

Right: Karen Pennesi

“I am interested in the struggle between science and indigenous knowledge for control over meaning that is crucial in establishing an authoritative position as ‘weather expert’,” writes Pennesi. “I integrate theoretical dimensions of linguistic and ecological anthropology in analyses of how weather-related communicative practices are tied to particular historical, social, environmental and epistemological contexts.”

An ethnographic and discourse-based perspective gets to the heart of communication issues emerging in these domains where science, cultural knowledge and subjective experience intersect, says Pennesi. One aspect of this involves developing a database of indigenous weather prediction indicators to facilitate cross-cultural comparisons of how ecological knowledge systems take variation and change into account, and how this is encoded in language.

Pennesi is an active member of Weather & Society Integrated Studies, an interdisciplinary applied research group. As such, she is working to improve the integration of social and natural sciences to benefit users of weather information in both the public and private sectors. 

These projects are also theoretically linked to other projects on communication between science and the public, cultural aspects of natural resource management, vulnerability of rural populations to climate-related hazards and environmental equity issues involving First Nations communities, says Pennesi.

This series is open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The STS Program is co-housed in the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Financial support for this series has been provided by the Division of Natural Science, the Office of the Vice-President Academic & Provost and the York University Bookstore.

For more information, visit the Science & Technology Studies Web site or contact the Division of Natural Science at or ext. 55021.