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Cumulative Socionatural Displacements: Reconceptualizing Climate Displacements in a World Already on the Move
Annals of the American Association of Geographers  (IF4.683),  Pub Date : 2021-10-13, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2021.1960144
Lisa C. Kelley, Annie Shattuck, Kimberley Anh Thomas

Climate-induced displacement is attracting increasing media, state, and scholarly attention, albeit often in a way that situates migration as either an example of climate adaptation or a failure thereof. Whether depicted as success or failure, both framings can invisibilize the preexisting socioenvironmental processes that render climate-induced migrations necessary—or, conversely, that can inhibit them entirely. Perspectives on displacement and environmental migration from within political ecology and human geography offer an alternative register, looking beyond unidirectional socioeconomic or environmental drivers to document how uneven development reproduces displacements relationally and historically. Drawing on these theorizations, as well as empirical research from agrarian Southeast Asia, this article develops the notion of cumulative socionatural displacements as one approach for conceptualizing socioecologically driven displacement in a world already on the move. We demonstrate this approach through an analysis of displacement in Southeast Asia that begins by tracing the evolving state, market, and agroecological relations that have made mobility integral to agrarian viability while setting the stage for more intense climate impacts. In doing so, we also center the long-term (nonclimatic) environmental changes that are often sidelined in both anthropocentric debates on rural displacements and climate doomsday scenarios. We argue that examining climate-induced migration as just one facet of cumulative socionatural displacements is necessary for overcoming the ontological and political impasses engendered by prevailing narratives that collapse climate migration into convenient but misleading binaries.