Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Understanding everyday perceptions: a new wave of climate change and migration research.
Location British Museum - Studio
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2016 at 15:30
Sessions 1


  • Alex Arnall (University of Reading) email

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Short Abstract

Climate change and migration research is increasingly drawing on people's everyday perceptions and experiences. How can this work be developed to provide more effective responses to climate-related challenges which place the interests of vulnerable people at the centre of concern?

Long Abstract

As well as many social and economic factors, it has long been recognised by the research, policy and development communities that the environment, and climate change in particular, can alter patterns of human movement. In recent years, concerns have been expressed that climate change will result in large increases in the number of 'climate refugees' worldwide as populations abandon areas that are increasingly untenable to live in due to climate change-related shocks and stresses. Other commentators, however, have argued that such 'crisis' narratives tend to overlook and underplay long histories of ordinary mobility amongst affected populations. This panel aims to contribute to these debates by exploring people's everyday perceptions and experiences of climate challenges and mobility practices in rural and urban settings in developing countries, and how these understandings contribute to the emergence or otherwise of resilience amongst individuals and groups. In doing so, it will provide new meanings of, and insights into, existing climate change and migration-related problems, and assist in the development of more effective responses that place the interests, goals and aspirations of vulnerable people at the centre of concern.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Migration as an Adaptation to Coastal Erosion? Evidence from Chaukatali in South-east Bangladesh

Authors: Joanne Jordan (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the effects of environmental factors on migration and its implications for adaptation. It establishes erosion as the key driver of migration with four factors influencing migration outcomes. It gives emphasis to those that are ‘trapped’ in locations exposed to risk.

Long Abstract

Migration was initially characterised as a problematic outcome of climate change, as a failure to adapt, however more recently there has been a shift towards recognising the opportunities of migration as an adaptation to environmental and other risks. This paper aims to build on this emerging theoretical and empirical case-based literature, specifically; it examines the effects of environmental factors on migration, and its implications for adaptation, through case-study research in Chaukatali in South-east Bangladesh. It establishes an environmental factor - coastal erosion, as the dominant driver of migration; however this driver has induced a wide array of different migration dynamics. The case-study evidence determines that there are four factors (attachment to place, economic capital, education and social networks) that influence these diverse migration outcomes. While each factor can be interpreted as having its own unique value, it is the interaction of these factors that determines the specific nature of this movement at various spatial and temporal scales. In turn, these diverse types/patterns of movement create a range of outcomes, both positive and negative; which have implications on whether migration is interpreted as an effective adaptation or a failure to adapt. Specifically, this study emphasises the importance of giving attention to those that lack resources and assets and are thus, 'trapped' in locations exposed to risk through a process of cumulative impoverishment.

The obfuscating narrative of 'climate refugee': Political Ecology and Gendered migration in coastal Bangladesh

Author: Camelia Dewan  email

Short Abstract

Examining the linkages between ecology, land use and labour in coastal Bangladesh, this paper critiques the ‘climate change refugee’ narrative by looking at complex patterns of mobility among women to the brick kilns, Dhaka Ready-Made Garments and the Middle East.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to provide a space for the lived experiences of men and women in the coastal flood plains of Bangladesh and what they themselves identify as risks and challenges. Bangladesh is often portrayed as a 'climate change victim' and evokes an image of a land drowning in floods and cyclones, with people fleeing as 'climate change refugees'. Through an ethnographically grounded understanding of the linkages between ecology, land use and labour, this study seeks to complicate this picture by pointing to historically grounded patterns of seasonal migration and increased labour opportunities for women outside the villages, in the brick kilns, Dhaka Ready-Made Garments (RMG) and increasingly, the Middle East. It argues that the 'climate change refugee' narrative obfuscates complicated processes and decisions of everyday migration, and thus neglects both the agency of migrants and the historicity of migration. This paper seeks to understand, from the point of the poorest segments of women in the coastal areas, what it means to live in a supposedly climate risk zone. It does so by examining the changing social relations, economic structures and development discourses that produce and subvert climate change as both an idea and a lived experience (cf Shah 2010:32).

Everyday disasters with changing climate: A resilience perspective

Authors: Aditya Ghosh (South Asia Institute)  email
Emily Boyd (Reading University )  email

Short Abstract

Large disasters have been at the forefront of climate change adaptation excluding smaller but more frequent disasters which cause much greater harm to people periodically. This paper attempts to theorise such everyday disasters with grounded evidence from Indian Sundarbans, a climate change hotspot.

Long Abstract

This paper introduces the concept and consequences of 'everyday disasters' - when regular oceanic processes such as tidal bores and high tides become more intense and catastrophic, destroying lives of those who live in low-lying coastal areas with striking regularity under the influence of climate change, with sea level rising at a rate higher than global average in the Bay of Bengal. Not classified as 'disasters' and thus unattended by local, national and international disaster management authorities, these events are engendering unprecedented tragedies for the poor, rendering structured adaptive governance futile.

Climate change adaptation processes with respect to large disaster events have been discussed considerably in the academic and policy literature. However everyday disasters, their impacts and governance in socio-ecological systems have not been studied within this discourse.

We analyse everyday disaster and their consequences focusing on one such event on July 12, 13 and 14 in Indian Sundarbans that made about 50,000 people homeless, forced them into near starvation for over three months. We elaborate how threats from the environment (and climate change) risk are extending to social ones and affecting dynamics of the socio-ecological systems; underscoring specific needs for governance processes and systems to target newly emerging environment-social risks. Thus we address two of the biggest gaps and areas of needed academic and policy work.

With extensive qualitative survey, media discourse analysis, snowball sampling, photographic and audio-visual evidence, collected from the region in July-September 2014, we find major institutional shortcomings in framing and governance of everyday disasters.

Voices from small island developing states (SIDS) on decision-making processes for migration linked to climate change

Author: Ilan Kelman (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

In discussions regarding migration from small island developing states (SIDS) linked to climate change, the voices from ordinary islanders are often absent. This paper provides scenarios, dilemmas, and mechanisms for considering the voices of ordinary islanders.

Long Abstract

Small island developing states (SIDS) are said to be amongst the regions most needing to prepare for migration linked to climate change, with many initiatives currently ongoing. Often, the voices of ordinary islanders are absent from these discussions while empirical evidence indicates that they are not overly concerned about moving due to climate change or even climate change impacts. Meanwhile, few resources have been provided to SIDS communities to consider and enact migration-related options. This paper indicates decisions which need to made, bases for making those decisions, and possibilities for bringing together different parties as part of the decision-making processes. The key is to ensure that voices from the communities are heard, drawing on the people's knowledge and wisdom, rather than decisions being imposed on them. Decision-making dilemmas emerge in scenarios when it appears as if an island community would be expected to need to migrate due to climate change--less likely due to inundation than due to limited freshwater, decreasing food security, and changing island morphology. Those scenarios include (i) community members do not wish to leave or are not concerned about climate change; (ii) adequate financing is not available to support the community; and (iii) different community sectors desire different actions. These dilemmas converge towards suggesting that options for remaining in place, often the islanders' preferred pathway, ought to be given more attention.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.