Exploring the place of emotions in climate (non-)migration research
: A data-collection approach

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Sciences

Abstract

A growing concern and challenge for climate migration researchers is to avoid the oversimplification of the complex channels through which climate change relates -or not- to migration. One source of complexity lies in the subjectivity of people in their perception of their environment affecting the decision to move. However, current approaches only partially tackle the question of subjectivity of (potential) migrants, leaving out emotions. In fact, current research in the field of climate (non-)migration is built on methodologies that place emotions in the blind spot. In particular, data collection to research the migration-climate change nexus are either environmental quantitative spatio-temporal data, or people’s rational description of some well-defined climate-related impacts on their lives and living conditions. The interactions between people’s emotional experiences and climate change is not surprisingly at best overlooked if not fully ignored.
As a response, this thesis explores the place of emotions in climate (non-)migration research by questioning classical data-collection approaches and proposing an alternative. A guessing game was developed and played in 61 households in the Philippines three years after it was hit by Super-Typhoon Haiyan, an event mimicking the conditions predicted under future climate change. By following its simple rules, the respondents were led to formulate and share both emotion levels and explanations for emotion-environment associations’ data. Moreover, the game was motivating and changed the status of participation, as the researchers played with the respondents in an inversed power setting. Its particular interactional structure also improved the quality of the data produced by reducing expectation as well as cultural and translation barriers encountered in the field.
The analysis of the data uncovered dominantly positive emotional experiences of and in places, intertwining tangible and intangible facets of the person-environment relationship. Best described as ‘place-based emotional experiences’, the data revealed the various roles played by the tangible features of the environment and the Typhoon in shaping the emotional experiences of and in places. As they provide an in-depth and nuanced understanding of people’s relations to their living places, ‘place-based emotional experiences’ may contribute to explain why people decide (or not) to leave. While it provides a proper place to emotions in climate (non-)migration research, this way of explaining the decision (not) to migrate however challenges its current research framework, by reversing the traditional focus on actual and perceived physical changes over local’s relations to places.
Date of Award6 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SponsorsUniversité de Namur
SupervisorSabine Henry (Supervisor), Nathalie BURNAY (President), Sebastien Dujardin (Jury), Grace T. Cruz (Jury) & Mariá Mancilla Garciá (Jury)

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • migration
  • emotion
  • disaster
  • post-disaster
  • game
  • philippines
  • data collection

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