Drought as a Revelatory Crisis: An Exploration of Shifting Entitlements and Hierarchies in the Kalahari, Botswana


Professor in the Comparative Development Studies Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, K9J 7B8. Her current research interests include the study of culture, social differentiation, and development in Botswana; she is involved in a research project on sustainable resource management in Egypt̂s Eastern desert. Her most recent publication is ‘From Shame to Pride: Politicized Ethnicity in the Kalahari, Botswana‘, forthcoming in the Canadian Journal of African Studies.


This article analyses drought in Botswana as a ‘revelatory crisis' in which structural contradictions as well as deteriorating socio-economic conditions are exposed. Paradoxically, however, drought also enables such conditions to be concealed because they can be attributed to the ‘crisis' and not to deeper problems and trends. In addition, crises such as droughts disrupt conventional routine sufficiently to allow actors (including government policy-makers as well as rural producers) to innovate with normative codes. This fact along with the opening up of structural fault lines often leads to accelerated rates of social change. Change is analysed here both in terms of the structural conditions in which it takes place (and alters) and with regard to the actions taken by individuals and institutions in order to reveal the links between structure and agency. The article draws upon an extended case study from Central Botswana and utilizes Sen's method of entitlement analysis to examine changing social processes.