Remaining optimistic: Curative ways to embrace loss by engaging with place from within

Prof. Petra Tschakert1

1University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia


A situated and socially engaged science of loss arising from climate change takes people’s lived experiences with risk and harm as its fundamental starting point. It foregrounds what losses occur, where and how, which of these losses matter most to people and why, and whether or not such losses are considered acceptable and potentially reversible. It regards participation front and centre, to engage with place ‘from within’ and to create the needed space to collectively examine and combat damages while exploring curative ways to embrace and cope with unavoidable loss. As Veland and colleagues (2018) argue, engaging people through their own narratives, deliberations, and visions allows protagonists to make sense of observations while also “story[ing] safe and desirable pathways away from dangerous and unjust outcomes, and toward dignified futures”. As part of our ARC Discovery project “Locating loss from climate change in everyday places’, we reflect on participatory mapping and walking journeys with ~100 engaged citizens across eight communities in WA. Such grounded engagements constitute ‘slow research’ (Adams et al., 2014), resisting policy makers’ requests for rapid risk analysis tool-kits while fostering situated agency, gently working through the erosion of life certainties and people’s curtailed sense of control.


Professor Tschakert is trained as a human-environment geographer and conducts research at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, social-ecological resilience, environmental justice, livelihood security, and participatory action research and learning, often within a development context. Her work explores structural drivers of vulnerability and marginalisation, anticipatory learning, and intangible losses in the context of climate change.

Current role: Professor in Human Geography and Planning, UWA


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