Narratives of change

first-, second-, and third-order adaptive processes in Nepal and the Maldives

  • Per Becker Lund University
  • Phu Doma Lama Lund University
Keywords: Adaptation, Risk, Adaptive process, Nepal, Maldives, Climate change


Adaptation is becoming increasingly significant for public policy and practice in dealing with climate change-related risks and achieving sustainable development. Consequently, the exploration of different ways of assisting successful adaptation has brought under scrutiny the different lifestyles of communities all around the world. Most frameworks adopted to understand adaptation among societies keep climate change at the centre of inquiry and often, if not always, give little consideration to other changes of socio-economic and cultural nature that communities have adapted to over centuries. We argue that adaptation is not something new to communities and neither is dealing with risk and uncertainty. The adaptive processes of households and communities entails dealing with risks to what they consider valuable and important to protect in relation to a hazard or sudden, seasonal, or steady change. This paper builds on earlier works that place emphasis on adaptation of livelihoods to changes beyond but inclusive of climate. We suggest an empirically informed analytical framework to study such adaptation, keeping society instead of climate change at the centre. It is based on comparative case study research with life narratives collected through qualitative interviews in Nepal and in the Maldives. The findings also suggest a re-conceptualisation of adaptive processes used in influential frameworks, and suggest a qualitative distinction to identify explicitly how different adaptive processes deal with risks; by adapting livelihoods directly, adapting the means of adaptation, or adapting the ends of adaptation. It is contended that applying this theoretical framework when studying adaptation facilitates comprehensive analyses and a nuanced understanding of how households and communities adapt to deal with risk. Hence, proposing a way to open up a broader repertoire of policy and practical support for adaptation to match local contexts and strategies.

How to Cite
Becker, P., & Lama, P. (2020). Narratives of change. The South Asianist Journal, 7, 35-56. Retrieved from