Life Adrift critically engages with two of the most defining issues of our contemporary global political economy: migration and climate change.
In their own right, both are discrete areas of politics, theory, practice, and resistance. But as climate and migration are increasingly imagined together as a singular relation, they are giving rise to new horizons of meaning in politics, philosophy, media, art and literature. Life Adrift is a collection of essays from across the interpretive social sciences and humanities which treats climate change and migration as a relation that demands theoretical and historical explanation, rather than a problem requiring technical and expert solutions. The result is a unique collection, offering readers a means for reconceptualising migration and environmental changes as a site of politics and of political possibility. Along the way it addresses a range of topics current in cultural and political theory, including democracy, place, neoliberalism, humanism, materiality, borders, affect, race and sexuality. If climate change stands to redistribute humans and material across the globe, then Life Adrift offers a set of critical resources for analysing this coming phenomenon and reimaging what it might mean to be political in a fully immanent world of bodies in flux.
About the Author
Andrew Baldwin is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the Department of Geography, Durham University. From 2011-2015, he chaired COST Action IS1101 Climate change and migration: knowledge, law and policy, and theory, a pan-European research network of social scientists and humanists. His research examines the intersections of race, whiteness, migration and climate change.
Giovanni Bettini is Lecturer in International Development and Climate Politics at Lancaster University. His research focuses on the genealogy and political effects of discourses on climate change, population, and development, with a particular interest in the connections between climate change, adaptation and mobility.
Read an Excerpt
Climate Change, Migration, Critique
By Andrew Baldwin, Giovanni Bettini
Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Andrew Baldwin and Giovanni Bettini
All rights reserved.
Andrew Baldwin and Giovanni Bettini
Migration is life.
Migration is one of the defining features of contemporary political life. Figured in opposition to the citizen, the nation and the sedentary, migrants are constitutive of some of today's most cherished political identifications. Celebrated or denigrated as a matter of political expedience, migrants bear the mark of the other. They are racialized, sexualized and dehumanized, even while represented as hardworking, desirable and prosperous. That migration has and will continue to shape the twenty-first-century global order is a truism evident in the ever-increasing number of migrants in the world today alongside a full-fledged political antipathy for immigration. But in addition to migration, global climate change looms over the present as another world-shaping phenomenon. Indeed it is now a commonplace in today's global political economy to argue that climate change is itself a migration crisis in the making.
As climate change becomes ever more apparent, many expect large areas of the planet to become uninhabitable, producing what some have referred to as 'dead zones' (see Goldberg and Colebrook, this volume). But what of the inhabitants of these dead zones? What fate awaits those who will bear the brunt of climate change while having contributed the least to its creation? One view is that the impacts of climate change, whether in the form of sea-level rise, extreme weather events or drought, will 'induce' a complex pattern of human mobilities, including migration, displacement and resettlement, on an unprecedented scale. Such mobilities, whether real or imagined, are mobilized for quite different political ends. Some characterize environmentally induced displacement as one of climate change's most severe injustices. The popular yet deeply fraught figure of the 'climate refugee' here becomes a touchstone for planetary fate, humanity adjudicated on the ethical stance adopted in relation to it. For others, the anticipated mobilities induced by climate change are a potentially ungovernable, and therefore, dangerous, phenomenon. Here, climate change promises the radical redistribution of people around the world, with those expected to be set in motion, in turn, inscribed with the near-mythical power to disrupt entire economies, political institutions and identities. Climate change thus becomes dramatized not only as a problem of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, but also as one that demands new mechanisms for anticipating and controlling 'flows' of people who, many expect, will be unleashed by climate change. At a time of heightened political anxiety when the figures of the migrant and refugee are easily mobilized to undermine European integration, or when both feature centrally in hateful political speech (i.e. Trumpism), how we approach the relation between climate change and migration is of profound significance.
Life Adrift intervenes in the problem space opened up when climate change and human migration are made to intersect, when climate change is configured as a problem of migration. The contributors to this volume represent an eclectic mix of the humanities and interpretive social sciences – political and cultural theory, literary criticism, linguistics, migration studies, philosophy, geography and media studies. The essays gathered together in this volume thus offer a wide-ranging, and we hope fresh set of, insights for thinking anew the relation between climate change and human migration. Common across these essays is a shared conviction amongst the authors that climate change is a real, material circumstance with potentially dire consequences for much of the world's population, especially those already living on the fringes of capital. In compiling these essays, our intention is not to trivialize this. Like so many other forms of violence, including imperialism, colonialism, economic austerity, genocide and patriarchy, the violence of climate change will reverberate for generations to come. It may even threaten long-term human survival. Yet in this introduction we take a slightly counter-intuitive view; we argue that the relation between climate change and human migration must be understood foremost as a relation of power rather than as a hard fact awaiting to be discovered, or an empirically observable phenomenon. Climate change designates a real crisis of contemporary political economy, but its migration effects are mediated at every turn by all manner of other social, cultural, political and even geological, relations (on the geological see Clark, this volume). Consequently, we argue that the very act of thinking (or speaking or imagining) climate change as a problem of migration is explicitly political. By bending our view of the world, such thinking becomes a powerful means by which social attitudes are governed, which is what we mean when we say that climate change and human migration is a relation of power. In its more hegemonic expressions, it orients publics to climate change in a way that reinforces the exceptional status of the migrant or refugee. It demands that we view the migrant and refugee as the 'other', the constitutive outside or excess of what is otherwise imagined as the pairing of 'normal' even if fraught geopolitical and climatic conditions. It reinforces the belief, erroneous in our view, that life internal to the modern nation state is settled, sedentary and at some degree of remove from the transnational flows of labour, capital and technology, imagined to lie beyond state borders. And in a more abstract sense, it is a relation that often constructs movement and change as inimical to social order rather than as its founding and ongoing condition (Nail, 2015). (Later, however, we discuss how this relation of power might be used to reimagine the future.)
As a system of power, the discourse of 'climate change and human migration' – by which we mean a representational schema in which climate change is configured as a problem of migration, displacement and resettlement – achieves all of this by privileging climate change as the main 'agent', 'determinant' or 'trigger' of migration. One effect of this is that it obscures the always historical circumstances that lead people to migrate from or flee their homes. It is, in this sense, a form of power, or discursive regime, reliant upon what the climate scientist-cum-cultural theorist Michael Hulme (2011) calls 'climate reductionism'. Climate reductionism is 'a form of analysis and prediction in which climate is first extracted from the matrix of interdependencies which shape human life within the physical world ... then elevated to the role of dominant predictor variable' (p. 247). Simply put, this is the belief that one can anticipate the appearance of future social life simply by modelling climate change. For Hulme (2011), the inherent danger of such reasoning is that it forecloses the future as a site for creatively reimagining the world, as a site for democratic politics. Climate reductionism is also the central organizing logic in the discourse of climate refugees. When a climate justice activist, a military general or scientist declares that climate change will result in millions of people seeking refuge from their homelands, each mobilizes the ideology of climate reductionism. And yet what remains blurred by such claims are the countless other counter-histories, both macro (i.e. currency devaluations, structural inequality, civil war, land reform) and micro (i.e. the intimacies of daily life), that account for migration, whether understood as a voluntary or involuntary act. The discourse on climate change and human migration thus draws its power by superseding these counter-histories in favour of the perceived primacy of climate change, by reducing mobility to climate.
But if climate reductionism is a prevalent trope in discourses on climate change and human migration, then, paradoxically, so too is its refusal. Indeed, the refusal of climate reductive reasoning is now a commonplace in most mainstream accounts of climate and human migration, the basic premise being that migration is multicausal and therefore irreducible to climate change. Prominent examples of this refusal include the UK Foresight report (2011) on Migration and Global Environmental Change, the Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) and research published by the International Organization for Migration. But we could cite countless other studies similarly premised on its refusal. In one sense, the retreat from reductionism is a welcome development insofar as it offers a refreshing alternative to the reductive logic common in popular media and political rhetorics and in the casual, everyday use of concepts like 'climate refugee'. And yet it is also deeply equivocal. For even while much of the discourse on climate change and migration is predicated on the refusal of climate reductionism, the fixation on climate as the first among equal drivers of migration decisions nevertheless remains. If migration is truly irreducible to climate, then why not simply refer to 'migration'? Why isolate 'climate' or 'environment'? It would seem that even while the explanatory value of climate is routinely downplayed by those seeking to understand the interactions of climate and migration, the urge to speak about climate and migration as a singular phenomenon remains for many as strong as ever. The act of refusing climate reductive logic, while simultaneously reinforcing the explanatory value of climate, is a peculiar feature of the discourse on climate change and human migration. It is precisely through the inclusion of the social, the historical and the political, albeit in a position that is subordinate to climate, that the discourse is rendered self-evident and its power dissimulated.
So, even while we concur with Hulme's critique of climate reductionism, even while we adhere to the truism that human mobility is irreducible to climate change in reason of its complexity, we nevertheless remain sceptical about the critique of climate reductionism insofar as it has been misappropriated into the wider discourse on climate change and human migration and made to serve a set of ends different than those intended by Hulme. Our scepticism is bolstered by two additional observations. First, when researchers seek to explain specific instances of migration as the outcome of a mixture of climatic variation alongside cultural, economic and political variables, they assume that the knowledge they produce accurately reflects the phenomena it purports to represent, and, relatedly, they assume that such realist representations are value free (see, for example, McLeman, 2014). Such positivist assumptions, however, run counter to another basic truism in contemporary social science, which is that 'fact' and 'value' are not separate domains but are mutually imbricated elements of thought (Cf. Latour, 2004, Harvey, 1974). To assume otherwise merely papers over the normative component intrinsic in the act of inscribing an element in a discourse. The power effects of such empiricism begin to appear when we fully historicize this knowledge. The example of Hurricane Katrina is illustrative. When Katrina is constructed as an event in which climate change is said to bear directly on migration, such reasoning downplays the significance that nearly four centuries of structural racism in America also had on this displacement event. More specifically, a judgement is made concerning the relative value accorded to the hurricane as opposed to American racism in explaining this displacement. In other words, our scepticism lies in the way the undeniable eventfulness of the hurricane is oftentimes mobilized as a fact which is then used to sustain the belief that climate change is a problem of migration – when it would be equally justifiable to posit the displacement effects of Hurricane Katrina as nothing but a crisis of American racism. How we comprehend these phenomena matters greatly.
This leads us to our second observation, which is that the empiricist conceit running through the discourse on climate change and human migration leaves little room for conceiving of the intricacies of knowledge and power. We can begin tracing these intricacies by considering the way in which the relation between climate change and human migration is overly represented as a crisis that demands technical and expert solutions. We find this form of representation across all manner of policy domains, from international organizations like the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Asian Development Bank, regional bodies like the European Commission and the African Union, and national institutions, such as UK Foresight. It is also embedded in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2010, for example, the Cancun Adaptation Framework (2010) called on national governments 'to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation'. More recently, negotiators at the Paris climate summit (2015) upped the ante by striking an expert task force to 'avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change'. One could scrutinize the unique power/knowledge formations specific to each. But together what these examples point towards is the coming into being of an epistemic community of experts and researchers, bound together through a shared set of assumptions about the nature of human mobility in the context of climate change. Foremost among these assumptions is that expert knowledge of this relation is required to ensure that the migration effects of climate are properly managed.
Noel Castree (2014) reminds us that 'epistemic communities gain their distinctiveness, and sense of self-identity, through a mixture of their value-set, ontological beliefs, questions of interest, objects/domains of concern, methods of inquiry, the criteria favoured for determining worthy ideas, knowledge or information, and their chosen genre of communication' (p. 42). Epistemic communities are significant for numerous reasons but arguably most importantly for the way they draw boundaries around what can and cannot be said about a specific area of knowledge, distinguishing, sometimes formally, sometimes tacitly, the parameters for legitimate speech. This significance can be appreciated in relation to the above-mentioned example about Hurricane Katrina. It matters significantly that this event can be mobilized to consolidate a set of truths about climate and migration, especially if doing so displaces the politics of race and racism. For example when commentators claim that climate change will result in more such extreme weather events and therefore greater levels of human displacement, they render the politics of American racism secondary to those of climate change. This is not inconsequential inasmuch as it purifies the discourse of climate change from any meaningful discussion about race and racism. And the epistemic community on climate and human mobility matters more generally too because insofar as it conigures migration in the context of climate change as exceptional and thus in need of expert management, it negates the more fundamental notion that migration is not exceptional but central to the multiplicities of human existence. And this, we would suggest, has the effect of prohibiting more fundamental questions from being asked about, for example, what migration might come to mean in the context of climate change, how it relates to democratic and public life, and what it can tell us about humanness today.
All of this is hardly unprecedented. The mechanisms by which the discourse on climate and migration displaces these fundamental, political questions are a recurring feature of environmental discourse. Numerous critical interventions (for instance, Swyngedouw, 2010, Zizek, 2010, Harvey, 2011) have made the argument that doom-and-gloom scenarios, the invocation of 'facts' (in its more or less reductionist variants) and the delegation of action to techno-managerial communities are instrumental to depoliticization. A priority for critical scholarship is therefore to surface the political questions that mainstream discourses on climate and migration have otherwise left unaddressed.
Life Adrift should be read as an attempt to do just this, to expose the political subsurface of the discourse on climate change and migration. It offers a set of interventions that run counter to many of the epistemological and ontological assumptions that proliferate across the epistemic community of climate change and migration. Its purpose, however, is neither to repudiate nor to valorize the relation between climate change and migration, but to offer instead a fresh suite of concepts, approaches and questions that might be used to politicise migration and life in the overlapping and ever-shifting contexts of climate change, the Anthropocene, neoliberal rationality and shifting geopolitical dynamics. Developing such resources, we argue, is a necessary precursor for bringing into existence new and, we hope, progressive ways of living in common as a condition for inhabiting political and social lifeworlds that are by definition always in transition (Berlant, 2016). Resilience, however, is not the point. Its inherent conservatism plays no part in our aspiring lexicon (Reid and Evans, 2014). Instead, we find inspiration in the idea that 'since it is at least possible – if not indeed likely – that human creativity, imagination, and ingenuity will create radically different social, cultural, and political worlds in the future than exist today, greater effort should be made to represent these possibilities in any analysis about the significance of future climate change' (Hulme, 2011 p. 266).
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction: Life Adrift, Andrew Baldwin & Giovanni Bettini / Part One: Politics: Territory, Borders and Subjectivities on Shifting Grounds / 2. Climate Change and Crises of Humanism, Wendy Brown / 3. On “Not Being Persecuted”: Territory, Security, Climate, Simon Dalby / 4. Dead in the water, Brad Evans / 5. Unsettling futures: Climate change, migration, and the (ob)scene biopolitics of resilience, Giovanni Bettini / Part Two: Anthropocene: On the Twilights of Human Mobility / 6. Parting Waters: seas of movement, David Theo Goldberg / 7. Transcendental Migration: Taking Refuge from Climate Change, Claire Colebrook / 8. Strangers on a Strange Planet: On Hospitality and Holocene Climate Change, Nigel Clark / 9.
Globalization as a crisis of mobility: a critique of spherology, Arun Saldahna / Part Three: Alterity: Climate, Migration and the (re)Production of Past and Future Difference / 10. The Ecological Migrant in Postcolonial Time, Ranabir Samaddar / 11. Floating Signifiers, Transnational Affect Flows: Climate-induced Migrants in Australian News Discourse, Katherine Russo / 12. Rearranging desire: on whiteness and heteronormativity, Andrew Baldwin / Afterword Gaia Giuliani