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All dried up: the materiality of drought in Ladismith, South Africa

Savelli, E., Rusca, M., Cloke, H. ORCID:, Flügel, T. J., Karriem, A. and Di Baldassarre, G. (2022) All dried up: the materiality of drought in Ladismith, South Africa. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. ISSN 2514-8494

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1177/25148486221126617


This paper conceptualizes droughts as socioecological phenomena coproduced by the recursive engagement of human and non-human transformations. Through an interdisciplinary approach that integrates political ecology, material geographies and hydroclimatology, this work simultaneously apprehends the role of politics and power in reshaping drought, along with the agency of biophysical processes —soil, vegetation, hydrology and microclimate— that co-produce droughts and their spatiotemporal patterning. The drought-stricken Ladismith in Western Cape, South Africa, is the instrumental case study and point of departure of our empirical analysis. To advance a materiality of drought that seriously accounts for the coevolution of biophysical and political transformations, we alter the spatiotemporal and empirical foci of drought analyses thereby retracing Ladismith’s socioecological history since colonial times. In turn, such extended framework exposes the agency of soil, vegetation, hydrology and microclimate and their metabolic exchanges with processes of colonization, apartheid, capitalist and neoliberal transformations of South African economy. We argue that the narrow pursuit of profits and capital accumulation of the few has produced a fundamental disruption between nature and society which contributed to transform Ladismith’s drought into a socioecological crisis. Whilst advancing debates on materiality, we note two fundamental contributions to the study of drought. First, our approach makes hydrological accounts of droughts less politically naive and socially blind. Second, it develops a political ecology of droughts and socioecological crises more attuned to the materiality of drought. We contend that apprehending the materiality of drought and the active role of its non-human processes can further understandings of the workings of power and the production of socioecological injustices.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:107161
Publisher:SAGE Journals


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