September 10, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

Professor Amanda Wooden poses in an office.
Professor Amanda Wooden's research in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia is supported in part by a Fulbright award. Photo by Bill Cardoni

In a Central Asian region where glaciers — the primary source of water — are visibly receding, Professor Amanda Wooden, environmental studies, will work with residents to provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts on climate change in an unconventional way: by using cameras.

Wooden's research, which involves several methodologies and will take place over two years, is supported by a recently awarded Fulbright Global Scholar Award and an American Councils Advanced Research Fellowship. The funding will enable Wooden to travel to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia, where she will study the social meaning and political impacts of glacier loss in the Tian Shan range.

"This is a serious concern in Central Asia," Wooden said, explaining that she seeks to understand how people who live within view of glaciers, and who are dependent on them, are grappling with visible changes to these important water bodies. "I am unsure if most people know how bad the problem is," she added. "The water supply in this region is predicted to peak and then begin declining sometime mid-century."

Along with using the more typical social science research methods of participant observation and interviews, Wooden will employ a photovoice technique, asking participants to take pictures that represent their thoughts on environmental change. After reviewing the images and descriptions written by the photographers, she will conduct unstructured interviews to learn more about the participants' image choices.

"It's a way of shifting control of the interviewing process to the participants, instead of asking questions that might come with attached preconceptions," said Wooden, who is Bucknell's David & Patricia Ekedahl Professor of Environmental Studies, a position that also funds her research. "The people who take the photos tell me what's important."

Wooden will also conduct archival research in St. Petersburg, Russia, searching the Russian Geographical Society's holdings for documents that shed light on conceptions of mountains, glaciers or key waterways among residents in Central Asia. In addition, she will seek materials that indicate conflicts or contradictions between imperial or Soviet authorities and the region's inhabitants with regard to water resources.

"I'm looking at the importance and meaning of glaciers and mountains over time," she said, adding, "Glaciers in this region are central to water security for tens of millions of people. It's important to have a historical perspective on the political issues surrounding them as we grapple with current environmental changes."