The discursive politics of adaptation to climate change

Michael Mikulewicz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
259 Downloads (Pure)


Adaptation to climate change is a policy objective of rapidly growing importance for development programming across the Global South. This article offers an interrogation of the discursive politics surrounding the term based on insights from postcolonial theory. By employing a theoretical framework rooted in the concepts of imaginative geographies and discursive violence, this contribution seeks to deconstruct how adaptation is being imagined and promoted by development actors in a Global South context. The underlying study adopts a multisited, institutional ethnography to critically analyze an adaptation project in S~ao Tome and Prıncipe (STP) implemented jointly by the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) and the national government. The article presents evidence for how agents of development (re)produce an imaginative geography of the country’s vulnerability and engage in a discursive violence that renders project beneficiaries vulnerable on the one hand, and seeks to transform them into model adaptation subjects on the other. It discusses how local residents have been effectively excluded from the project based on their perceived vulnerabilities and points to critical political theory and “imaginative countergeographies” as ways in which the disempowering representations of the Global South as vulnerable and the discursive violence committed against its residents can be counteracted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1807-1830
Number of pages24
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number6
Early online date20 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • adaptation
  • Africa
  • development
  • discursive violence
  • imaginative geography


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