Karine Gagné

Assistant Professor
Phone number: 
519 824 4120 x52505
MCKN 643
Accepting graduate students: 

Climate Change, Ethics of Care, Human-Animal Relations, Environment and Infrastructure, Citizenship, Environmental Knowledge.

PhD Anthropology, Université de Montréal, 2015


Caring for Glaciers. Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas by Karine Gagné

Reviews for Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas (2019)

"…an outstanding example of multispecies anthropology…highly recommended" (Choice)

"…essential book for anyone interested in understanding contemporary issues in the Himalayas and changing human-cryosphere relationships" (Journal of Asian Studies)

"…an eloquent ethnographic exploration… enhances the anthropological understanding of South Asia, and draws attention to emic understandings of climate change in the Himalayas" (Anthropologica)

"…a rich impression of how marginal communities cope in an era of social, political and environmental change" (Contemporary South Asia)


My ethnographic work builds on various methods from anthropology in order to bring a multidisciplinary perspective to issues related to the convoluted notions of nature and culture. My research is based primarily in the regions of Ladakh and Zanskar in the Indian Himalayas where I examine the political and cultural dimensions of human interactions with the environment.

I am pursuing these research interests through a study of the social and political effects of a shift towards "expert citizenship" as a means to address environmental issues. I examine how the ability of populations to adapt to climate change intersects with their capacity to be recognized by the state.

In particular, I am interested in how citizens develop technical expertise to address the consequences of climate change and abandonment by the state. More recently, I started to examine how climate knowledge is constituted in the Indian Himalayas. In particular, I focus on insights regarding climate change, its human dimensions, and how it affects bodies of ice; these insights emerge from a study of mobility over time in the region.

My earlier ethnographic work in Ladakh has explored the practices and beliefs through which an ethics of care for the environment and for nonhumans is shaped and nurtured and how this ethics evolves under state production projects.

My interests include supervising graduate students pursuing research in the anthropology of the environment, infrastructure, climate change, the politics of environmental knowledge, and human-animal relations.

Gagne, Karine. 2020. The Materiality of Ethics: Perspectives from a Himalayan Anthropocene on Water and Reciprocity. WIREs Water (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) (Advance online view: doi: 10.1002/wat2.1444)

Gagne, Karine. 2019. Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Gagne, Karine. 2019. Waiting for the Flood: Technocratic Time and Impending Disaster in the Himalayas. Disasters. 43(4): 840-866.

Gagné Karine. 2019. Climat. in Anthropen.org, Paris, Éditions des archives contemporaines., DOI:10.17184/eac.anthropen.110

Gagne, Karine. 2017. Building a Mountain Fortress for India: Sympathy, Imagination and the Reconfiguration of Ladakh into a Border Area. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 40(2):222-238.

Gagne, Karine. 2016. Cultivating Ice Over Time: On the Idea of Timeless Knowledge and Places in the Himalayas. Anthropologica 58(2):193-210

GAGNE, Karine and Mattias Rasmussen. 2016. An Amphibious Anthropology: The Production of Place at the Confluence of Land and Water. Anthropologica 58(2): 135-149.

GAGNE, Karine, Mattias Rasmussen and Ben Orlove. 2014. Glaciers and Society: Attributions, Perceptions and Valuations. WIREs Climate Change (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) 5(6) 793-808.

Gagne, Karine. 2020. SSHRC Insight Grant. Decolonizing Climate Knowledge: An Ethnographic Study of Travel and Mobility in The Indian Himalayas in An Era of Climate Change. [$99,643]

Gagne, Karine. 2019. SSHRC Insight Development Grant. Connecting People Positively? The Infrastructure of Mobility in Democratic India and Socialist Vietnam, Principal Investigator, Philippe Messier, Co-Investigator with Sarah Turner and Jean Michaud. [$64,670]

Gagne, Karine. 2018. SSHRC Insight Development Grant. Amid Icy Ruins and Insecure Futures: Climate Change, Expertise, and The Infrastructure of Citizenship in Zanskar. [$61 287]

Call for Papers

Please see below for information about a panel on vital ice that Karine Gagné (University of Guelph) and Georgina Drew (University of Adelaide) are developing for February’s ISSRNC, which is likely to go online:

Vital Ice: Perceiving Past, Present, and Future in Melting Ice-scapes

Organizers: Karine Gagné (University of Guelph) and Georgina Drew (University of Adelaide)

Are glaciers and ice bodies good barometers of change? Are they perhaps more than physical matter as sentient beings or mirrors of humanity and human morality? What does the materiality and being-ness of glaciers and ice bodies tell us about the past, present and future, in their plurality, of humans and nonhumans? In healthy ice, we see life and, for some, even connection to the divine. In melting ice, we see death and loss. What does the process of glacial melt tell us of the dangers and the horrors of our present moment? For in the retreating of ice, we foresee myriad domino effects as river flow lessens, freshwater stocks diminish, and agricultural lifeways are jeopardized.

With this panel, we propose to think of ice bodies as a vital entity, or assemblage of interdependent relations. Glaciers and other ice bodies are sometimes considered as a nonhuman force, physical and symbolic ‘vibrant matter’ (as per Jane Bennett), or a web of relations whose emerging agency acts on humans. The vitality of ice bodies is also seen in their personhood, and with their recession, persons or entities vanish, along with their stories, histories, and knowledge. Ice masses can also be parts of assemblages that bring together different forms of life – human, nonhuman, and divine – which are linked by principles of reciprocity. Vitality is also a central element in how ice is known. These diverse perspectives and relationships with ice often meet in their view of ice loss as holding up a mirror to the cascading loss of other vibrancies. Thus, from the co-evolution of indigenous people and glaciers to the recession of sacred glaciers, glacial lives and lifeways are also in peril.

Ice masses are not just data, numbers, and lines on a graph or a map. The vitality of ice is also an important component of the relationship that scientists and local populations are forming with ice bodies. Glaciers, frozen lakes and rivers, and icefields are part of icescapes that are known through embodied experiences, and sensory engagements leading to the development of an intimate knowledge about the environment. Ice has, here, a vibrancy that contributes to our understanding of past, present and future lives. And yet, as we seen in the glaciological data, there is very little determinacy in our knowledge of the disparate patterns of glacial retreat that we currently witness. This indeterminacy creates fodder for mixed, and contentious, understandings of glacial melt when it is met with phenomenological encounters of changing ice.

Can an expanded understanding of ice bodies’ vitality help us better comprehend the interconnected risks of their demise? How might their affective storylines be mobilized to illuminate past, present and future trajectories as having been nourished and still being nourished, at least in part, by ice? In order to shed some light on these questions, we welcome contributions that examine humans’ relationship with glaciers and other ice bodies which are emerging from different forms of engagements and are anchored into sensorial experiences, material experimentation, relational ontologies, or principles of reciprocity.

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to both Karine Gagné (gagnek@uoguelph.ca) and Georgina Drew (georgina.drew@adelaide.edu.au) no later than July 30, 2020.