Exploring the affective dimension of climate adaptation discourse: Political fantasies in German adaptation policy

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Critical adaptation research has documented how climate change adaptation responses largely tend to maintain rather than change the status quo. Building and expanding on these literatures, this article draws on poststructuralist discourse theory, specifically its notion of political fantasy, to explore further how these prevalent techno-managerial approaches to adaptation operate and what it might be that makes them seem appealing. Based on an exploratory, qualitative analysis of how affect (emotions) and fantasy are at play in the German government discourse on adaptation, the article discerns four specific forms that fantasy takes in official documents: (1) fantasies of control and preparedness, (2) fantasies of objectivity and reason, (3) fantasies of a shared sense of place, and (4) fantasies about ‘the good life’. These support the common narrative for how to adapt to climate change in the German context – primarily in a way that does not challenge or change the social order. The findings show that German adaptation policy is sustained and legitimised by fantasmatic elements that seek to speak to a-rational desires and provide important affective anchor points for collective identification, especially those evoking a shared sense of place. In other words, the German adaptation policy discourse is not constructed only at the level of rational argumentation, but very much so on the level of affect. In demonstrating this, the article makes the case for placing political fantasy into the analytical and theoretical vocabulary within critical adaptation research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)714-734
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2023


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