Subjectivity and the politics of transformation in response to development and environmental change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Adaptation is a main response to climate change that involves adaptive, but also developmental and transformative, socio-ecological change. From this perspective the politics of climate adaptation cannot be understood without considering their intersection, in particular contexts, with politics of development and transformation. These three types of politics differ in the pattern of socio-ecological change that each one promotes. We discuss the operations of power associated with each pattern of change, including the forms of authority and subjectivities that each one entails. Developmental authority achieves consent (or consensus) on a trajectory of improvement, and promotes subjectivities based on individuals' positions and their progress along that trajectory. Adaptation authority sets clear-cut boundaries between the adapting systems and their changing environments, and promotes subjectivities of belonging (or not) to the system's identity. Transformational authority seeks to transgress established authority, be it developmental or adaptive, and promotes emancipatory subjectivities. We analyze life-story narratives of local tourism entrepreneurs and workers in Akumal, a coastal enclave in Mexico doubly exposed to hurricanes and tourism globalization. This analysis shows how the operations of power in this enclave are variously linked to discourses and practices of development, adaptation, and transformation. The case of Akumal illustrates the complex interplay between risk and inequality in coastal communities exposed to growing climatic variability. Our analysis of deliberate transformations takes adaptation to climate change, and its transformative and emancipatory potential, into development. Understanding how authority and subjectivities evolve in particular locales, and the types of politics of change that they entail, is key for simultaneously reducing inequalities and risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)558-569
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Coastal adaptation
  • Life stories
  • Mayan riviera
  • Politics of adaptation
  • Socio-ecological change
  • Transformative adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Subjectivity and the politics of transformation in response to development and environmental change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this