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Translating the ‘adaptation to climate change’ paradigm: the politics of a travelling idea in Africa


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


In the past few years, adaptation to climate change has emerged as a dominant new theme in development politics, to an extent that it can almost be considered as a new development paradigm. Yet, this new paradigm and its effects are not unproblematic, as the empirical research in three East African countries presented in this article indicates. The article argues that the current transformation of environmental governance reflects not only climate change as such, but also – and perhaps even more so – the discourse of a changing climate and its effect on development politics. The empirical evidence shows that African farmers, politicians and government officials often respond to the new ‘adaptation paradigm’ more readily than to directly felt phenomena caused by a changing climate. We therefore argue that the ontology of the concept of adaptation to climate change needs to be readjusted. Epistemologically, our concern is to trace the discourse of adaptation to climate change across multiple sites, i.e. how it ‘travels’ between global epistemic communities and adaptation projects in developing countries. Drawing on actor-network theory and its concept of translation, we provide an alternative view of adaptation to climate change by highlighting the contested and multi-sited narratives and practices that bring adaptation into being.