Environmental Change & Migration in an Agrarian Society: The Case of Coastal Bangladesh

This seminar presents a mid-term review of a PhD project, which examines the adaptive responses to environmental and climatic changes among agrarian communities in coastal Bangladesh. More specifically, the project seeks to understand why it is that some agrarian communities have experienced high rates of outmigration in the aftermath of a deadly cyclone, while in other communities facing a similar environmental predicament, levels of outmigration have been much lower. Existing literature on this topic argues that the poor and the most vulnerable people do not possess enough resources to migrate and therefore they become “trapped” in environmentally degraded locations. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork findings, I argue that this conceptualisation of the “victims” of environmental “disasters” as being “trapped” is analytically limiting because it does account for people’s agency in shaping their lives and livelihoods, and their willingness to stay put. In this mid-term review, I present my primary findings about a village in which people’s mobility choices are shaped by negotiations and interactions between everyday access to basic provisioning and housing, social status, and transformations in the agrarian economy associated with global capitalism.

About the speaker
Towheedul Islam commenced his PhD studies in the Department of Political and Social Change, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific in August 2015. Supported by an Endeavour scholarship, his project looks at how environmental changes in conjunction with agrarian transformations influence mobility choices in coastal Bangladesh. Before coming to ANU, Towheed obtained an MA in International Environmental Policy from MIIS, California, under a Fulbright scholarship in 2012 and taught international relations at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His research interests include climate change adaptation, political ecology and migration. Recently, Towheed co-authored a book chapter published by Routledge on environmental migration in Bangladesh.

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