Weapons of the vulnerable? A review of popular resistance to climate adaptation

Ebba Brink, Ana Maria Vargas, Emily Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate adaptation is not a neutral or apolitical process, but one that ignites social resistance. Government responses to risks of floods, droughts, or hurricanes – even those using a language of participation – might follow historical development pathways, strive to maintain the status quo, and directly or indirectly serve elite interests. Little attention has been paid to how people defy or resist top-down adaptation processes, overtly or covertly, in particular cultural, historical, and legal contexts. Drawing on sociological thought on popular resistance, this paper systematises research on people’s resistance to climate adaptation by scrutinising the sites, repertoires, and consequences of such resistance. We identified overt and covert resistance in 56 scientific adaptation articles, which concentrated on 5 ‘sites’ of resistance: Rural livelihoods, Urban informal settlements, Islands, First Nations, and Institutional landscapes. The findings imply that resistance to adaptation occurs globally, and not least in the context of relocation processes and participatory adaptation. We show how a resistance lens can help understand contemporary political behaviours, shed light on dynamic and compound vulnerability, and’unlock’ more context-sensitive and even transformative adaptation. Meanwhile, resistance and popular movements are not only progressive, and there might be conceptual barriers to moving from resistance to transformation or reconciling resistance with actions by or with the state.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102656
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Free keywords

  • sociological resistance
  • climate change adaptation
  • vulnerability
  • adaptation pathways


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