Winner of the SNIS Award 2016

The SNIS Award 2016 for the best thesis as been attributed to Dr Morgan Scoville-Simonds (Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, Geneva) for his award-winning thesis, entitled: Adaptation-as-development: “Socializing” and “depoliticizing” climate change adaptation, from the international to the local level.


The jury attributed a special mention to Dr Jaclyn Granick for her thesis “Humanitarian Responses to Jewish Suffering Abroad by American Jewish Organizations, 1914-1929”, (The Graduate Institute, Geneva). The thesis analyses humanitarian responses to Jewish suffering abroad by American Jewish organisations, arguing that American Jewish international politics were expressed through international philanthropy throughout and after the
Great War.

Adaptation-as-development: “Socializing” and “depoliticizing” climate change adaptation, from the international to the local level

Dr Morgan Scoville-Simonds

PhD thesis defended at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, under the supervision of Professor Hufty (September 2015)

The thesis addresses the topic of climate change as an international policy imperative. Through a political ecology approach it proposes an analysis of policy and social discourses on why and how this adaptation is conceived as a problem.

The jury, composed of experts in different disciplines, commented on Dr Scoville-Simonds work as “excellent, well-structured; the thesis tackles complex concepts with lightness and deep understanding, generating valuable insights for the social sciences, as well as enriching their methodologies”.

Morgan Scoville-Simonds is visiting fellow at the Centre for International Environmental Studies of the Graduate Institute, and from July 2016, visiting researcher at the University of Oslo’s Department of Sociology and Human Geography supported by a Swiss National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship. During his PhD, he worked as research assistant on a Swiss National Science Foundation-funded project lead by Professor Marc Hufty.

Working from a political ecology perspective, his research addresses analytical approaches to discourse and power, culturally-embedded human-environment relations, and political and social-justice aspects of environmental problems and solutions. He has conducted fieldwork in Andean and ceja de selva areas of Peru on adaptation/development interventions and local understandings of changing climatic conditions. With an initial background in the physical sciences, Morgan holds a MA and PhD in Development Studies from the Graduate Institute.


Read Abstract

Adapting to the impacts of climate change is emerging as an international policy imperative. Taking a unique constructivist political ecology approach, the thesis focuses on how adaptation is being conceived as a problem and as a field for research and intervention through identifiable competing ‘adaptation discourses.’ These discourses are traced from the international to the local level where their implications in terms of adaptation project implementation are examined.

At the international level, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is examined as a site of discursive negotiation, demonstrating how specific conceptions of ‘adaptation’ gain prevalence and legitimacy. A review of international adaptation finance examines the actors and norms involved in fund distribution and governance. The emergence of adaptation discourse and policy in Peru is taken as a national case. Based on in-depth fieldwork, a local case study of an adaptation project in Cusco demonstrates the concrete implications of the way that adaptation is being conceived. In the case study zone, community members explain climate-related problems and changes through discourses embedded in local Andean, Catholic and Protestant religious views. In contrast, the project promotes a view of climate change as a local, apolitical problem, disarticulated from global processes of all kinds, even obscuring its scientifically-identified causes and the related issue of differentiated responsibility.
At all levels analyzed, it is shown that while the conception of adaptation as a social problem (especially, related to ‘underdevelopment’) is gaining prevalence, its conception as a political problem is not. Further, the actors, logics, funding channels, and activities involved in ‘doing development’ are systematically re-employed in ‘doing adaptation.’ The findings raise significant social-justice concerns and suggest that this ‘adaptation-as-development’ may, rather than reduce vulnerability, reinforce historical processes of marginalization and demobilize actors with respect to this socio-(politico-) environmental issue.