The Post-Politics of Adaptation to Climate Change

  • Michal Mikulewicz

Student thesis: Phd


In recent years, adaptation to climate change has become a prominent policy imperative for the global climate community. Developing countries, in particular, are seen as requiring assistance in preparing their societies to the future impacts of climate change. This has resulted in a range of multilateral climate funds, which have led to a proliferation of projects focused on adaptation in the Global South. These interventions, however, are often guided by explicitly biophysical or socio-economic understandings of vulnerability to climate impacts. Consequently, they adopt institutional approaches to problem-solving that promote local associations, market integration, and technological solutions without considering the highly political nature of the adaptive process. This study aims to contribute to the critical strand of the literature rooted in explicitly political conceptions of vulnerability and adaptation, and has as its goal to investigate empirically the effects of the institutional approach on the governance of adaptation at the local level. In order to do so, this research adopts a novel theoretical framework of post-politics, which has not yet been used to study local adaptation contexts. Applying post-politics in this case allows to combine discursive and material approaches, the importance of which is stressed by critical adaptation scholars. The adopted theoretical framework describes the post-political condition of adaptation governance as constituted by three distinct but strictly interrelated processes: perpetuation of dramatized representations of climate change and vulnerable people, deployment of techno-managerial solutions to adaptation issues, and the manufacturing of an ‘adaptive consensus’ required to legitimize these solutions. Methodologically, this research is a multi-sited, institutional quasi-ethnography, and its case study is an adaptation project implemented jointly by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the national government in São Tomé and Príncipe. This research, conducted in both institutional and rural contexts (two UNDP offices and the local community of Liberdade), analyzes the post-political condition of adaptation governance in São Tomé and Príncipe by uncovering the discursive violence taking place with regards to the country’s local people, the project’s adoption of a resilience heuristic which mobilizes techno-managerial solutions, and the disempowering, consensual participation process that ignores the various inequalities that exist in the local community. As such, it is argued that adaptation to climate change in the form promoted by UNDP and the government not only fails to respond to local needs, but also risks exacerbating the existing social, economic, spatial, and political inequalities at the local level. Adaptation of this kind, rather than decreasing vulnerability, becomes a driver of further stratification. Thus, this study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of how adaptation unfolds locally in the Global South, and provides insights into how the process could be rendered more co-productive and equitable in the future.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJames Evans (Supervisor) & Saska Petrova (Supervisor)


  • climate change
  • adaptation
  • post-politics
  • development
  • SÃ?£o TomÃ?© and PrÃ?­ncipe

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