The role of climate change in inequality

Dr Joanne Jordan teamed up with the University of Dhaka to produce a Pot Gan performance which engaged policymakers, researchers and slum dwellers with the everyday realities of climate change in informal settlements of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

What is your research?

My work on climate change resilience tries to understand how local communities perceive climate change, what impact climate change has, how that impact varies between different vulnerable groups, and finally, what are the various response strategies they have developed. More broadly, I’m trying to answer why people act the way they act. Why do they make particular decisions? So a lot of my research involves having in-depth conversations in the field and using a storytelling approach to try to understand motivations. From there, I’m interested in why the impact and responses are so different – the differential can give us a huge insight into why some people are more vulnerable than others.

Why is it important to study climate change vulnerability at the local level?

If you look at any international or national intervention, whether it’s going to be accepted, modified or completely rejected by the locals depends on its fit within their understandings of climate change and their everyday realities. So to create effective climate resilience strategies, it’s crucial to really understand how the community works, which requires a lot of fieldwork and examination gender histories as well as cultural and power dynamics.

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What is a Pot Gan?

A Pot Gan is a traditional folk medium that combines melody, drama, pictures and dancing. Ours was developed in cooperation with the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Dhaka. Crucially, a Pot Gan is not a static piece of theatre. It is an interactive event that challenges the audience to actively engage with the topic – here, the personal experiences of slum dwellers affected by climate change.

“Whether it’s going to be accepted, modified or completely rejected by the locals depends on its fit within their understandings of climate change and their everyday realities. ”

Why did you develop this performance?

I spent months in an informal settlement of Dhaka talking to more than 600 people in their homes, workplaces, local tea shops and on street corners to understand how climate change is linked to or creating problems in their everyday lives and how they are trying to find solutions to those problems. The Pot Gan is my attempt to give some of the research back to the community I studied rather than parachute in, gather data and run away – so one of the performances of the Pot Gan took place in the settlement where I did all of my fieldwork interviews.

The Pot Gan performances were also filmed to produce ‘The Lived Experience of Climate Change: A Story of One Piece of Land in Dhaka’ which was directed by Green Ink, a new media studio in Dhaka. It’s been seen by more than 100,000 people online and at interactive screening events and won The University of Manchester’s 2017 Making a Difference award for outstanding public engagement. The project also made it to the 2016 final of awards by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

How does your research address global inequalities?

Currently, mainstream work on reducing inequality doesn’t take into account the different risks that people face as a result of climate change, so the interventions that are aimed at reducing inequality are likely to be less effective. Inequality also affects how people respond to climate change. My research looks at how those responses differ and why – questions that can point to what kinds of interventions will help even the playing 

The Global Development Institute (GDI) is the largest dedicated to development research and teaching in Europe and is also home to the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College. The results of the most recent Research Excellence Framework ranked GDI first for impact ranking in development studies in the UK, with many of our researchers deemed to be 'world-leading'.

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