The Politics of Adaptation: Examining the Exercise of Political Authority through Climate Change Adaptation in Vietnam

PhD defence

Lily Salloum Lindegaard


This dissertation documents the highly political, situated and historical nature of climate change adaptation initiatives in practice. It thereby challenges the mainstream framing of climate change adaptation as universal programs of improvement to be rolled out across the globe. Through four cases of adaptation initiatives in Central Vietnam, I document how political authorities use adaptation to order societies and environments as well as respond to environmental change. I find that adaptation reflects pre-existing political goals, structures and practices. Through adaptation initiatives, governance actors exercise and reinstantiate their authority.

The dissertation takes its point of departure in critical literature on climate change and adaptation, and employs scholarship on political authority for its analysis. Specifically, it considers the knowledge, goals, programs and practices according to which governance is formulated and implemented by a variety of actors, including government officials, NGOs, donors and international organizations. It draws on six months of fieldwork including a brief village stay; institutional mapping; semi-structured interviews of sub-national government officials, other governance actors and affected households; and document and policy analysis.

Based on the dissertation’s findings, I argue that adaptation should be viewed as a political arena rather than a self-evident endeavor. Viewing it as a political arena highlights its constructed framing, the limitations this entails for the activities and targets of adaptation, and its highly political nature. This perspective provides a counterpoint to the majority of adaptation literature, which supports the mainstream adaptation framing, as well as critical adaptation scholarship that problematizes the methods or outcomes of adaptation without reflecting on the limitations of the concept itself. Ultimately, I argue that adaptation should not be used uncritically as an academic concept. Doing so precludes debate on its conceptual underpinnings and the politics of its practice.


Professor Christian Lund, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen