Refocusing critical adaptation research: From international climate policy toward the embodied experiences of beneficiaries and technocrats I

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Tower Court D, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Organizers: Megan Mills-Novoa, Jon Barnes, Michael Mikulewicz
Chairs: Megan Mills-Novoa

Call for Submissions

For this paper session, we invite contributions that work across scales to examine adaptation aid and the embodied experience of its diverse “beneficiaries.” We welcome papers that draw on a broad set of theoretical tools such as post-colonial theory, science and technology studies, political ecology, queer studies, feminist theory, and a variety of methodological approaches, including ethnography, phenomenology, narratives, among others. We invite papers which include case studies or theoretical engagements with the following questions:

• How do techno-scientific experts create, reproduce, and mobilize adaptation expertise?
• How do different ontologies co-exist and/or conflict within the climate change adaptation discourse and the resulting initiatives?
• How does the bureaucracy, financialization and managerialism of adaptation aid shape its initiatives and it subjects?
• What is the idealized “adaptation” subject and how is it produced?
• How do adaptation “beneficiaries” contest, appropriate, and/or leverage adaptation aid or legitimate different options for their own socio-political aims?
• How do cross-scalar institutional power dynamics affect the lived experiences of adaptation project managers and beneficiaries?
• How are epistemic resources employed to strengthen the boundaries and identity of adaptation activities?
• How is social differentiation constructed and exploited to exacerbate dominant power dynamics during adaptation planning?
• How do adaptation projects intersect with social justice movements and what does this imply for just futures/transitions?
• What is the kind of transformation that planned adaptation seeks to promote, and what are its consequences for the recipients of this kind of aid?
• To what extent can an approach rooted in embodied experiences of adaptation practitioners and beneficiaries challenge the dominant knowledge and institutional structures surrounding adaptation, vulnerability and resilience?
• What the grounded implications of “mainstreaming” climate change adaptation into development?


In the wake of escalating climate change impacts, climate change adaptation is conceptually and materially reshaping projects across the globe with multi-faceted social, economic, and political consequences. While donors have been funding adaptation projects for over a decade, the size and number of these projects will continue to rise following the ratification of 2015 Paris Agreement and the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund, which has mobilized $10.3 billion dollars to date. Adaptation has now become an almost universally-accepted policy goal manifesting globally in the form of various projects seeking to transform landscapes and livelihoods away from climate change vulnerability and towards resilience.

While geographers have been at the forefront of both theorizing the fundamental concepts undergirding climate change adaptation (Adger 2005; Adger et al., 2009; Liverman, 2015; Bassett & Fogelman, 2013; Huq & Burton, 2003; Eriksen et al., 2015; Bracking, 2019; Winkler & Dubash, 2016; Sovacool et al., 2015; Taylor, 2014; Forsyth, 2014) and critiquing it as a concept (Swyngedouw 2013; Watts 2015), there remains a need for empirical research into the embodied experiences of the programmers and recipients of this adaptation aid, including technocrats and project beneficiaries. With this goal in mind, political ecologies of adaptation offer insight into the discursive and distributional politics underlying adaptation aid. The rationalities underlying the planning and distribution of these initiatives as well as the ownership and decision-making surrounding resources is a central concern in understanding the ‘transformation’ sought by adaptation aid and its messy outcomes on the ground.


Adger, N., Arnell, N. W., & Tompkins, E. L. (2005). Successful adaptation to climate change across scales. Global Environmental Change, 15(2), 77–86.
Adger, W. N., Dessai, S., Goulden, M., Hulme, M., & Lorenzoni, I. (2009). Are there social limits to adaptation to climate change? Climatic Change, 93(3-4), 335–354.
Bassett, T. J., & Fogelman, C. (2013). Déjà vu or something new? The adaptation concept in the climate change literature. Geoforum, 48(C), 42–53.
Bracking, S. (2019). Financialisation, Climate Finance, and the Calculative Challenges of Managing Environmental Change. Antipode, 51(3), 709–729.
Eriksen, S. H., Nightingale, A. J., & Eakin, H. (2015). Reframing adaptation: The political nature of climate change adaptation. Global Environmental Change, 35(C), 523–533
Forsyth, T. (2014). Climate justice is not just ice. Geoforum, 54, 230–232.
Huq, S., & Burton, I. (2003). Funding Adaptation to Climate Change: What, who and how to fund? International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Liverman, D. (2015). Reading climate change and climate governance as political ecologies. In T. Perrault, G. Bridge, & J. McCarthy (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology (pp. 301–319). New York, NY.
Sovacool, B. K., Linnér, B.-O., & Goodsite, M. E. (2015). The political economy of climate adaptation. NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE, 5.
Swyngedouw, E. (2013). The Non-political Politics of Climate Change. ACME (Vol. 12, pp. 1–8).
Taylor, M. (2014). The political ecology of climate change adaptation: Livelihoods, agrarian change and the conflicts of development. Abingdon, Oxon and New York, NY: Routledge.
Watts, M. J. (2015). Now and Then. In Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology (pp. 19–50). Routledge.
Winkler, H., & Dubash, N. K. (2016). Who determines transformational change in development and climate finance? Climate Policy, 16(6), 783–791.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Helen Rosko*, Clark University, Defining Development’s Target in Mali: Aiming for Adaptation Subjects 15 11:10 AM
Presenter Megan Mills-Novoa*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development, Adaptation’s Unruly Subjects: The Remaking of Climate Change Adaptation Projects in the Ecuadorian Highlands 15 11:25 AM
Presenter Sean Kennedy*, University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign, Adaptation for whom? Geographies of private climate adaptation finance in Indonesia 15 11:40 AM
Presenter Skye TURNERWALKER*, , Skye Turner-Walker, Australian National University (ANU), Local governance responses in adapting to adaptation 15 11:55 AM

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