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Climatised Moves - Climate-induced Migration and the Politics of Environmental Discourse

  • Giovanni Bettini
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Publication/Series: Lund Dissertations in Sustainability Science
Volume: 5
Document type: Dissertation
Publisher: LUCSUS, Lund University


Popular Abstract in English

Climate migration has become an iconic topic in international climate politics and policy.

This work, combining political ecology, critical security studies and post-foundational theories, traces the changes of conflicting discourses across time and space, and assesses the different forms of security they interpellate.

While initially attracting attention as a security issue, visualised by the spectre of mounting waves of climate refugees, it is now mainstreamed and (re)signified in the soft terms of human security. The motto of governed migration as an adaptation strategy seems to configure climate migration as an object for mundane governance rather than any exceptional measures.

The exceptionalism of security and the mundanity of governance appear to congrue to a depoliticization of climate migration. A biopolitical government of disordered and dangerous populations at the fringes of capital and development appears at the horizon, once the blurred distinction between exception and rule dissolves.
This work seeks to de-naturalise climate-induced migration (CM). Combining political ecology and post-foundational theories, I read CM as a construct that reifies a series of phenomena into an issue to be researched and governed. By assessing the narratives, the knowledge, the logics and imaginaries on which conflicting discourses are built, I analyse the strategies of government they envision. I trace the roots of the debate and discuss its contiguity with other environmental topics such as desertification and peak oil. Along these lines, the thesis offers three main ‘findings’.

First, the debate on CM inherited the strains of the environmental discourses of the 1970s from which it sprouted, reproducing their Malthusianism and environmental determinism. CM has been signified with crisis narratives that weave the spectre of mounting waves of climate refugees within the frame of security, reproducing post-colonial imaginaries, pathologising migration and othering the concerned populations.

Second, the debate is undergoing a shift when CM is mainstreamed and (re)signified in terms of ‘human security’ and resilience. The motto that advocates (governed) migration as an adaptation strategy configures CM as an object for mundane policy-making rather than for exceptional measures.

Third, CM offers insights on the role of ‘security’ in contemporary climate politics. Together, security and governance appear conducive to a de-politicization of CM, in which the very distinction between the exception and the rule dissolves into the horizon of a biopolitical government of ‘disordered’ populations.

Instead of policy recommendations, I elaborate a ‘politics recommendation’ – a constructive critique to radical political agendas. Because of a poverty of alternative narratives and imaginaries, those engaging with the climate-migration nexus have ended up either reproducing Malthusian logics, or being co-opted into mainstream narratives – whose polite façade reinforces rather than destabilizes dominant (social) relations. Therefore, I suggest that the struggles for fair climate politics and for the rights of migrants have greater chances to succeed if abstaining from current problematizations of CM.


Geocentrum I, room Världen, Sölvegatan 10, Lund
  • Erik Swyngedouw (Professor)


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • climate change
  • migration
  • climate security
  • adaptation
  • resilience
  • post-politics


  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability-lup-obsolete
  • Anne Jerneck
  • Guy Baeten
  • ISBN: 978-91-979832-2-8