Learning in a changing climate : an ethnographic study from the Global South

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2019
Full metadata record
Adaptation to climate change has become an undeniable reality intricately linked to human existence and the planet’s well-being. Historically, climate change adaptation research has been dominated by the physical sciences typically modelled around Global North perspectives. This study investigates how people in the Global South, in a largely agricultural community in Zimbabwe learn to change and adapt their everyday practices in response to climate change. An ethnographic approach involving fieldwork data from observations, narratives and photography from eight families purposively drawn from 30 families whose children belonged to a local school’s Eco-Schools Club (ESC) provided the data. It was anticipated, based literature that intergenerational learning would be evident in these families as the children gained scientific knowledge about climate change mitigation and adaptation through the ESC. The study drew upon Engeström’s Cultural Historical Activity Theory to analyse the possibilities of expansive learning, that is learning leading to radical and sustainable change, by examining how disturbances to the socio-material configuration of existing practices are managed. Contrary to reports from the Global North, the ESC was not a dominant source of learning because of the status traditionally ascribed to children within the community, and the criticality of the issue the knowledge would impact upon. Learning and change reflected in the families’ everyday practices was motivated most profoundly by the threat of 𝘕𝘻𝘢𝘳𝘢 (food insecurity). Changes occurred not through ready adoption of the abundant advice available to them, including from technical experts; learning was incremental, precipitated by questioning and reflection of existing knowledge and practices and evaluating innovations within a collective zone of proximal development (ZPD). Community members collectively gained new knowledge eventually altering some stable elements within existing practices. The collective ZPD significantly influenced changes because individual households felt secure if others were willing to experiment with a different approach. Thus, the collective ZPD could be conceptualised as a zone of proximal ‘safe’ development (ZPSD). As the driver for change, climate change, was itself intractable achieving any single sustainable practice is, unlikely; the likely future is a continuing cycle of learning and change. The study proposes a new way of approaching interventions. Interventions may be reconceptualised not as solutions but sources of learning where learning extends beyond community members to include technical experts in mutual settings where knowledge is co-produced and diverse perspectives negotiated.
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