Goldin, Jacqueline Ann (2017). 'Gender, social justice and climate change: the case of Lambani' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Key words: justice, climate change, gender, change, feminist social theory, Limpopo Province, affect, emoticons, diffraction, Capability Approach


Climate change is one of the greatest ecological and environmental challenges of our time and it is also an incontrovertible challenge to human rights (especially of the people on the frontline of the climate crisis who have contributed least to the causes of climate change), security, and economic development (Alam, Bhatia & Mawby 2015). Studies of climate change and links with gender and justice have been somewhat speculative in nature. To build women’s participation in national climate change adaptation planning, and to take heed of the multiple entanglements around this topic, participatory processes are required that enable diverse groups of disadvantaged women’s as well as men’s voices to be heard by policy-makers. In its concern for gender-blindness, lodging the discourse within the Capability Approach, this paper specifically considers the way in which climate variability affects men and women in a given locale.


In our study we use a range of participatory methods (qualitative - such as transect walks, participatory mapping, emoticons and quantitative – a survey instrument, sample size 271 households) to capture people’s emotions and perceptions around climate change. Our attention to affect is twofold. It allows for a more realistic reflection of entanglements with nature; but also we see affect as being more than emotion, as it is a dynamic opening up to possibilities that can effectuate social change. In our own study emoticons were used as a participatory tool to flesh out the different ways in which climate change is experienced. A respondent might be frightened and identify with the ‘fear’ emoticon whilst at the same time this affect (fear) becomes a moment of ‘becoming’ and, where side by side with the fear emoticon a phrase such as ‘we adapt because that is what we do’ reverberates. By choosing to work with tools such as the emoticon tool, we bring affect to the forecourt where we are better able to consider the way in which climate (non-human) and human beings confront one another.


According to Sen (1999), there are five instrumental freedoms that should be present and that women should have access to: political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. Access to these is necessary for women to gain a better quality of life and to acquire the capabilities they need to act as their own agents of change. Many of these freedoms are absent in Lambani, Limpopo Province, our site of investigation.


All societies are affected by climate change but the impacts vary by location, exposure, and context-specific social characteristics. These varying impacts draw attention to the recognition of difference and sameness, and the ways in which common, confusing, contradictory results emerge across and within terrains. Bozalek and Zemblyas (2016) see difference, be it age, gender, education etc., in an affirmative light, as a tool of creativity rather than as separation and lack. Difference is therefore not positioned as the opposition to sameness – but is also incorporated into the self as difference within and seen as a means of becoming.  The authors describe this in a language of diffraction where diffractive patterns reveal that there is light in darkness and dark in lightness and that these are similarly fluid and provide an understanding of how binaries can be interrogated and how differences exist both within and beyond boundaries (Barad, 2014). This discussion is important when considering climate and society or ‘binaries’ such as nature/culture. In fact, from this language of diffraction, these binaries break down and they are no longer fixed references but should rather be read through one another as entanglements (Bozalek and Zemblyas 2016).


There is no straightforward way of successfully challenging dominant narratives and inequitable power relations but new languages – such as the one deployed by Bozalek and Zemblyas (2016) and feminist philosophers working with ideas of participatory parity (Fraser 2009), or expanded notions of human wellbeing as is the case in the Capability Approach to development (Sen 1999, 2012; Atique, 2014; Goldin 2010, 2015; Nussbaum 2001), challenge the way in which we order our universe and open up new ways of seeing. This newness has informed our own study where we consider intangible goods such as emotions and the porous way in which emotions entangle themselves between spaces and how they defy rigid ‘fixedness’ or overly distinct interpretations. Emotions occupy fluid spaces, spaces of question, concern, confusion and change. As such – hope seen today as an expression of possibility might be seen tomorrow as a frustrating utopian dream. This discourse adds value to the Capability Approach with its focus on ‘missing dimensions’ and intangible goods (in particular its focus on shame and agency as two missing dimensions).


Our attention to affect is twofold. Not only does it allow for a more realistic reflection of entanglements with nature and their multiple experiences of  floods, droughts and extreme heat and cold that shape the everyday of women and men – but also we see affect as being more than emotion. It is, as Hardt (in Clough 2007:9) claim ‘our power to affect the world around us and our power to be affected by it, along with the relationship between these two powers.’ It is a dynamic opening up to possibilities that can affect change. This transition is explained as a ‘passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change in capacity.’ Thus as Massumi (2011) affirms ‘[w]hen you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight.’ This understanding sits well with our quest to ‘undo’ the binary of victim and hero – of those that suffer, those who succumb and those who surmount the multiple challenges of climate change.


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