Toward a new conceptualization of household adaptive capacity to climate change: applying a risk governance lens

Carmen E. Elrick-Barr, Benjamin L. Preston, Dana C. Thomsen, Timothy F. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing evidence highlights the importance of context-specific understanding of the impacts of climate change and the need to move beyond generalized assumptions regarding the nature and utility of adaptive capacity in facilitating adaptation. The household level of impact and response is an under-researched context, despite influential decisions affecting local and system vulnerability being made at this scale. Assessments of household adaptive capacity currently assess the influences of adaptive capacity or the influences on adaptive capacity in isolation. We argue that comprehensive assessments need to examine these influences in combination to capture a dynamic and integrated view of households that better reflects their positioning and role(s) in broader socialpolitical contexts. To transition assessments away from examining households as discrete units to recognizing their role within a larger governance context, we outline four themes focused on: (1) analysis of governance contexts, (2) determination of adaptive capacity sources, (3) assessment of cross-scalar trade-offs, and (4) integrated goal setting to facilitate boundary critiques. By considering these themes, the relationships between capacities and actions are highlighted, and the simultaneous outcomes of adaptive choices at individual and broader system scales can be evaluated. We argue that such boundary critique has the potential to yield a more comprehensive assessment of adaptive capacity focused upon cross-scalar influences and impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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