Disastrous waters, renascent lands: Politics and agrarian transformations in post-disaster Colombia

Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Thomas Perreault


Adaptation, Agrarian change, Colombia, Disasters, Floods, Peasants

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In 2010, Colombia experienced one of the most dramatic disasters in its recent history. Catastrophic floods associated with the global intensification of the La Niña phenomenon wreaked havoc on thousands of rural households and agricultural fields. Government institutions framed this disaster as a dramatic manifestation of global climate change. In consequence, these institutions employed adaptation as a form of governance intended to recover and reconstruct the areas affected by the La Niña floods. Through a variety of specific projects, state institutions brought the discourses and practices of adaptation to local rural settings. This dissertation examines the ways in which global climate disasters and state-led adaptation governance are actualized, experienced, and transfigured in the everyday life of rural people in Colombia, and how competing notions of post-disaster agrarian futures are produced and negotiated in the aftermath of catastrophe. This dissertation focuses on four areas of negotiation and debate between government officials and peasants in the aftermath of the catastrophe: a) the material reconstruction of the agrarian landscape and the production of collective memories of the disaster; b) the reconstruction of domestic spaces and the creation of risk zones as the basis for the implementation of a housing project; c) the reconstruction of the agrarian economy and the debates around the imaginaries of a prosperous post-disaster future; and d) the reconstruction of social relations, behaviors, forms of organization and the formation and contestation of particular notions of community. I find that in Colombia adaptation is far from being an ideal path towards resilience in the face of climate change. Rather, the victims of the catastrophe experienced adaptation projects as another form of development intervention involving longstanding contradictions such as exclusion, dispossession, and bureaucratic conflicts.


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