By switching to dark mode you can reduce your energy consumption of our digital service

A decolonial perspective and methodology: Re-centring people’s lived experiences and local realities in climate change adaptation research

Learn about the some of the novel and emerging ideas about decolonial thinking in relation to current practices of climate change adaptation research.
Three circles depicting the main knowledge areas of the research project
The study's three main knowledge areas (Source: Author)

Introduction

Climate change adaptation has emerged as a critical agenda in global environmental politics. However, a growing body of interdisciplinary research, particularly from a decolonial perspective, stress that Western scientific institutions and networks have dominated the politics and practice of climate change adaptation. Thus, it is important to shift research attention beyond Western research paradigms and to re-centre people’s lived experiences and local realities of climate change adaptation.

This article highlights key ideas about decolonial thinking in relation to current practices of climate change adaptation. Research findings identify several opportunities and potential entry points for integrating a decolonial perspective and methodology into adaptation decision-making, planning, and practice. This article was written and produced as a result of the author’s Master’s thesis conducted at Central European University.

This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

For further information on decolonial research, seeShifting Power Through Climate Research: Applying Decolonial Methodologies.

Methodology

Research design

The main knowledge areas of the thesis project comprised of decolonial scholarship, climate services, and knowledge exchange research. A decolonial perspective served as a critical foundation for reviewing academic literature, while existing research and theory from adaptation politics and Science and Technology Studies also assisted in tying together a decolonial critique of knowledge practices in climate services and knowledge exchange.

Conceptual framework

Drawing from decolonial scholarship, a theoretical framework was developed. This framework comprised of three decolonial concepts – shifting the geography of reason; focusing on subjectivity; and critical border thinking.

  • Shifting the geography of reasondenotes the practice of moving away from objective and neutral principles of modern scientific research. Instead, shifting the geography of reason involves turning our research attention to the context, peoples, and lived experiences from subaltern locations and/or living in marginalised contexts.
  • Focusing on subjectivity is understood as studying the way in which the individual understands themselves, their worldview, including their knowledges, perception, and lived experiences. (1)
  • Critical border thinkingdenotes a perspective and a field of analysis that denies the epistemic privilege of any knowledge system (be it scientific, indigenous, or local knowledges) over another knowledge system or way of knowing. Critical border thinking provides a method, a way, of slipping between the borders of coloniality and decoloniality. (2)

Additionally, a decolonial perspective of relationality was integrated into the conceptual design of the thesis. Relationality signifies the interconnection of human and more-than-human relations (3). At the same time, a relational approach is useful for conceptualising and examining power dynamics at multiple levels and dimensions.

Case study and research methods

The study draws from thethe perspectives and experiences of climate researchers and practitioners who were involved in a project called, “Stepping-up Knowledge Exchange Between Climate Adaptation Platforms” (KE4CAP). The KE4CAP project represents a global network of researchers and practitioners involved in the development and provision of climate services. In general, the KE4CAP network comprised of more than 200 climate adaptation practitioners, platform developers, operators, and specialists, representing 30 climate adaptation platforms across the globe.

A qualitative and inductive research approach guided research methods. A scoping exercise involved 10 weeks of online participation observation. Subsequently, a total of 18 online semi-structured interviews were conducted in two stages. First, climate researchers and practitioners from different countries in Asia and the Pacific islands region – including India, Japan, Philippines, Samoa, South Korea, and Taiwan were interviewed. The last stage of interviews involved 6 of the researchers and practitioners comprising the “core KE4CAP team”. The decision to first conduct the interviews with the participants of the KE4CAP project before turning to the core KE4CAP team aligned with my decolonial approach of studying from the “borders” of the KE4CAP project and re-centring the perspectives of the individuals inhabiting the “borders”. (4)

Key Findings

Six main research findings emerged from the study. They are summarised below.

  1. Researchers and practitioners involved in climate change adaptation planning and decision-making need to more critically consider how power dynamics affect processes of climate change adaptation.
  2. Power dynamics are important to consider in adaptation decision-making because hierarchical power differentials within and between scientific institutions have implications on decision-making processes that can either, restrict or facilitate the movement of knowledges relevant to informing adaptation planning and policymaking.​​​

For example, international adaptation policy frameworks such as, the UNFCCC’s National Adaptation Plan guideline and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14090 document, implemented at national or subnational levels do not necessarily align with the local problems, procedures, and reality of climate change and adaptation of a specific context.

  1. Power relations between different actors influence which actors are considered valid “knowers”, such as “knowledge producers” and “climate service providers”, versus those who are “knowledge users” or “local or end-users”.
  2. Design choices of specific research boundaries and research agendas epitomise crucial avenues of re-imagining how we choose to see the world, including how climate researchers and practitioners situate themselves in processes of adaptation decision-making and planning.
  3. Studying subjectivity and multiple subjectivities is critical for understanding the lived realities of climate change and adaptation. This includes understanding embodied knowledge as valid forms of knowledges.
  4. A decolonial perspective of relationality and critical border thinking are key for engendering and supporting transformative possibilities in adaptation decision-making, research, and planning.

Conclusion

The research project investigated the subjectivities of climate researchers and practitioners as a way of analysing power dynamics at multiple levels – within and between international research institutions, as well as social and individual dimensions of power. A decolonial perspective grounded the thesis project with an open and a critical basis for highlighting how subjectivities and knowledges are negotiated and contested. Nonetheless, closer attention to the historical timelines, cultural and traditional values of the research participants (be it climate researchers, policymakers, or farmers) will help to enhance the value of this research. This provides the opportunity for future research to build on this project’s decolonial approach and theoretical framework to investigate issues of politics and power in a systematic and holistic manner.

References

(1) Sithole, T. (2014). Achille Mbembe: Subject, subjection, and subjectivity (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved on 03 November 2022, from https://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/14323/thesis_sithole_t.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

(2) Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept. Cultural studies, 21(2-3), 240-270.

(3) Mignolo, W. & Walsh, C. (2018). On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. New York: Duke University Press.

(4) Mignolo, W. D., & Tlostanova, M. V. (2006). Theorizing from the Borders: Shifting to Geo-and Body Politics of Knowledge. European Journal of Social Theory, 9(2) ,205-221.

Citation:

Chua, S., (2022), “A Decolonial Perspective and Methodology: Re-Centring People’s Lived Experiences and Local Realities in Climate Change Adaptation Research,’ MESPOM

Related weADAPT reading:

Related resources

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.