Translations of the ´Adaptation to Climate Change´ Paradigm in Eastern Africa

The project initially started from the observation that society-environment relations in Africa are currently facing an intense re-shaping through a multitude of climate-related programmes, conceptually developed at an international level, translated into projects and programmes at the national level and negotiated and appropriated ideologically, socially and economically at the local level. It takes the global concept of ‘Adaptation to Climate Change’ (ACC) as a travelling idea that was initially designed by scientists in the North and is presently “travelling” to the South. The project is based on the following hypotheses:

  1. The ‘travelling’ of the global ACC paradigm to Africa is an ambiguous and contested translation process in which the idea undergoes reinterpretation, modification and appropriation so that it matches experiences, needs and interests of stakeholders at multiple levels in Africa.

  2. Translation processes are structured by translation regimes that are constituted by a specific set of actors, networks of communication, institutional patterns of interaction, and knowledge resources.

  3. Translations and their social, technological and environmental materializations will imply fundamental changes in the way people exploit, manage and conserve their environment and thus be accompanied by conflicts between different social groups with their respective interests.

The key question that links the project to the overall objective of the priority programme is twofold and asks on the one hand how actors in different translation regimes in Ethiopia,Tanzania and Rwanda are able to unfold their capacities of adaptation and creativity in the process of translation of the ACC idea and on the other hand how the mobilization and transformation of these capacities shape environmental governance and thus a re-ordering of state-society-environment relations in these countries.

During the first funding period the project has been able to identify major translators and their translation practices in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania, and to start describing translation regimes in these three countries by applying a comparative approach of multiscalar analysis and multisited ethnography. In the current period we aim to understand these regimes in detail, compare their characteristics, and analyze the consequences for local creativity.

The specific objectives of the project are

  • to understand the processes of translation by identifying the translators, analyzing their translation practices and their multi-scalar networks in and through which the idea of ACC travels and is translated,
  • to understand diverse ACC translations as an expression of local creativity and adaptation in different translation regimes,
  • to trace impacts of ACC translations on environmental governance and thus on state-society relations by identifying emerging and/or re-shaped structures of e.g. environmental surveillance, action groups and land use changes,
  • to understand the interactions of different significations of ‘adaptation’ and
  • to contribute to the structural and conceptual aim of the priority programme 1448/1 through an interdisciplinary and theoretical informed approach of comparative empirical fieldwork.


Starting date:


Research areas:


See interactive map