Women weathering the climate: Gendered knowledge and adaptive capacities in central Mexico

Open Access
Bee, Beth Anne
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 02, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Melissa Wright, Dissertation Advisor
  • Melissa Wright, Committee Chair
  • Lorraine Dowler, Committee Member
  • Petra Tschakert, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Member
  • food secuirty
  • feminist theory
  • adaptive capacity
  • climate change
  • risk perception
  • Mexico
This dissertation explores how women’s everyday material practices contribute to the production and exchange of knowledge, resources, and responses to adverse economic and ecological changes, such as El Niño induced droughts and neoliberal agricultural policies. Towards this end, the dissertation is organized into three distinct, publishable articles, which address the following three objectives: 1) To illustrate how knowledge is produced, reproduced and embedded in social and spatial relations of power; 2) To demonstrate how decision-making as well as resource production and distribution within and outside households revolves around gender; and 3) To draw attention to the ways in which gendered responsibilities, labor and control of resources contribute to women’s knowledge and perceptions of social and climate-related risks. In order to accomplish these objectives, I utilized a variety of qualitative, visual and participatory methods that elucidate the socio-spatial relations of power and knowledge production through a focus on women’s everyday material practices. I employed these methodological techniques over a period of nine months with women in two agrarian communities in northern Guanajuato, Mexico. The conceptual framework that guides this study involves an integration of adaptive capacity scholarship with feminist standpoint theory, social reproduction, and feminist political ecology. I will show how such integration provides useful tools to reframe and enrich our understanding of the processes that shape adaptive capacities. Consequently, this study illustrates that while women possess a variety of knowledge and skills that are useful for adapting to uncertainty, the gendered dynamics of their socio-spatial relationships variably affect their ability to translate this knowledge into effective action. In studying these dynamics, this project contributes to the literature on household vulnerability, risk and adaptive capacity in Mexico by illustrating how decision making, resource access and livelihood strategies are gendered processes. By examining women’s knowledge and experience with environmental and economic uncertainty, this dissertation deepens our knowledge of the limits and opportunities for adaptation. I believe that this analysis can inform efforts to strengthen the ability of rural communities in northern Guanajuato and other arid land users around the globe to adapt to environmental and economic change