Call for contributions:

Socio-theoretical perspectives on climate change adaptation – theorizing the politics, governance and planning of climate change impacts and responses

Call for contributions:
Socio-theoretical perspectives on climate change adaptation – theorizing the politics, governance and
planning of climate change impacts and responses

Workshop, online, 17.03.2022 from 09 to 16 o’clock
Organisation: Dennis Fila, Hartmut Fünfgeld (University of Freiburg), Susann Schäfer, Anika Zorn (Friedrich Schiller University Jena)
Since the beginning of the Fridays for Future movement, climate change has become a topic of societal discourse, underpinned by growing and increasingly differentiated research that now spans several decades. While the first research efforts on the causes and effects of climate change originated primarily from the natural and technical sciences, recently social sciences and humanities have made important contributions as climate change adaptation and mitigation have become pressing issues of societal relevance. There has been an intense debate for the last ten years in social sciences on the effects of climate change and on adaptation options. This extends not only across disciplinary boundaries, but also includes diverse dimensions of social life, economic systems and governance. In this discourse, concepts such as vulnerability, adaptive capacity, resilience and (climate) justice have been
transferred from their respective discipline-specific origins and adapted for research into human-environment interactions in the context of climate change. Uncertainties and explicit or implicit lack of knowledge, too, are elementary parts of dealing with the consequences of climate change. This poses additional challenges for social research in this area or even highlights the limits of knowledge (Mehta et al. 2019). After more than ten years of social science research on climate change adaptation, it is therefore necessary to identify and update key research opportunities for the social sciences, in addition to questions arising from structural uncertainties and knowledge gaps with regard to the manifestations of climate change. Not least due to dynamic activity in the area of (urban) planning and implementing climate change adaptation, it is timely to explore future socio-theoretical research in this field
and its relevance.
At the beginning of the 2020s, it appears that the majority of climate change adaptation research projects are financed by public authorities with an explicit output-driven application focus in their project design. The main efforts in such projects center on developing concrete, mostly technology-driven solutions and best practices for selected regions or sectors (Marx 2018; Nagorny-Koring 2018). As a result of focusing primarily on technological solutions to practical problems associated with narrowly defined biophysical climate change impacts and risks, a corresponding theorization of the socially and politically contextualized design and implementation of adaptation research and its societal effects is either underrepresented or entirely non-existent. Such a lack of theorization can be problematic in that important knowledge and experiences from individual projects cannot be abstracted, synthesized at a conceptual level and readily transferred to other contexts or phenomena, including to other forms of crises or other social or geographic settings. At the same time, a lack of fundamental reflection with regard to core ontological and epistemological questions can lead to forms of social science research that are mere enablers and accompaniments of technology-driven adaptation, reduced in terms of design and implementation to supporting narrow forms of problem-solving with some added value gleaned from social science insights. Critical questions with regard to ontology include, for example:

  1. The extent to which adaptation is understood not merely as a series of technological
    fixes but as a complex socio-technical process embedded in political and economic
    systems, social norms and tacit beliefs that shape its characteristics as well as
  2. the mostly implicit normative goals of adaptation that include or prioritize certain
    societal values while excluding or sidelining others through mechanisms of power and
  3. the preferred mechanisms for steering and regulating adaptation planning and

    Concern for such diversity in potential ontological stances also raises important epistemological questions, including the following:
  4. the recognition or exclusion of different forms of knowledge in adaptation processes,.
  5. the role of (social) researchers in explicitly or implicitly proposing and promoting certain

adaptation approaches, methods and ‘tools’.
These five core research questions ought to be addressed if ‘adaptation to climate change’ is to be taken seriously as a research object in the social sciences, where geographers, sociologists, urban planners and others can make an original contribution that extends beyond the quest for technological adaptation fixes and the practical means that enable adaptation implementation. The workshop aims at discussing this concern for adequate theoretical engagement for and in adaptation research, by bringing together scholars from human geography and related interdisciplinary contexts that elaborate on and discuss specific aspects of a social science theoretical approach towards climate change adaptation research.

Nagorny-Koring (2018): Kommunen im Klimawandel. Best Practices als Chance zur grünen
Transformation? transcript. Bielefeld.
Marx (2017): Vorwort. In: Marx (2017): Klimaanpassung in Forschung und Politik. Springer
Spektrum. Wiesbaden. V.
Mehta et al (2019): Climate change and uncertainty from ‘above’ and ‘below’: perspectives
from India. Regional Environmental Change 19, 1533-1547.

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