Local Resistance to Climate Change Adaptation: Hindrance or Opportunity?

Seminar in Critical Development Studies, Spring 2024

This seminar is co-hosted by Cornell Global Development and the Graduate Field of Development Studies.


Over the years, hundreds of climate change adaptation projects have been implemented globally. While there has been substantial scholarship on the extent and nature of adaptation efforts, fewer studies have examined why and how adaptation projects are being resisted. Meanwhile, analysis of resistance to adaptation offers critical insights to scholars and practitioners by recognizing the contentious nature of adaptation pathways and highlighting alternative visions for adaptation. In this talk, Michael Mikulewicz will present some of the findings of a systematic review of the literature on the topic of resistance to climate change adaptation, including the motivations of and strategies employed by resisters, resistance outcomes, the role of the state, and analytical implications for adaptation research. He will also discuss a case study of a small village in São Tomé and Príncipe, which refused to participate in an adaptation project implemented by the national government and the United Nations Development Program. By following a Rancierian understanding of the post-political, he analyzes local resistance as a ‘political interruption’ of the otherwise post-political adaptation configuration in the country, and discuss the factors that arguably led to local resistance, including the residents’ disillusion with what he terms Big Development and their political subjectivation through a local grassroots initiative.

About the speaker

Michael Mikulewicz is Assistant Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His research interests include climate justice, Environmental justice, Adaptation, Resilience & Vulnerability, International development, Climate finance, UNFCCC process, Urban sustainability, Public health, LGBTQ+ studies, and Qualitative & Participatory methods.

About the Critical Development Studies Seminar Series

The Critical Development Studies Seminar Series is a graduate student-led effort that aims to provide space for junior scholars to share innovative research and discuss emergent debates within critical development studies.

Invited speakers cover a range of geographical areas, disciplinary backgrounds, and research topics. Examples of potential topics include agroecology and food justice issues, state-building, land and labor, extractivist politics, the gendered and racial dynamics of ongoing capitalist development, and the political ecological histories of the global development project. The target audience for the series is graduate students and faculty interested in critical development studies both within the Cornell community as well as external scholars.

Seminar co-organizers, 2023-24: Christa Nuñez, María Boa, Jenny Goldstein, Mariah Doyle-Stephenson

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