Tag Archives: qualitative methods

Climate Variability and Livelihood Diversification in Northern Ethiopia – A Case Study of Lasta and Beyeda Districts

By Zerihun B. Weldegebriel, Addis Ababa University, and Martin Prowse, Lund University


Land degradation (gullies) formed due to extreme climatic events flooding in Lasta district (C) Zerihun B. Weldegebriel and Martin Prowse .

Ethiopia is currently facing the worst drought in its modern history, resurrecting the world’s collective memory of the tragedy of the 1980s. But such severe meteorological conditions may not be so rare in the future: the observed and projected impacts of changing climatic conditions in Ethiopia point towards a considerable worsening of food security status for many smallholder households. The following quote from a smallholder farmer in Lasta District, Northern Ethiopia, encapsulates the predicaments that millions of smallholder farmers in the country are facing:

“In recent years, the gamen [a local term for high temperatures] is becoming unbearable and we all are suffering from the extreme heat. We [the elders] spend time with our flocks of sheep in tree shades yearning for the belg [short] rains to give us some respite from the long dry spells which seem to stay forever.”

In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we provide empirical evidence of the perceptions of smallholder farmers towards climate variability and the forms of adaptation strategies employed in two districts in Northern Ethiopia. We argue that assessing smallholders’ perceptions of climate variability and existing diversification strategies is a good first step to understanding what works best in terms of successful adaptation to climate change. Perceptions and associated adaptation practices can be an important input for adaptation policy since strategies are mostly the result of long-term experiences and assessment of risks in their day-to-day production and consumption decisions.

We find that smallholders perceived increased temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns and increased extreme weather events in the last two to three decades. While meteorological records support the claims of an increase in temperature, claims of an overall reduction in rainfall are not reflected in the records. But this is mainly because the highly variable belg rains (short rains) are compensated for by more stable kiremet rains (long rains).

In view of the perceived changes in the climate, the article looked into the types and viability of the adaptation strategies pursued. Two major approaches were identified – diversification within agriculture and diversification outside agriculture. Most of the adaptation within agriculture comes through demonstration effects from state-led schemes whilst diversification away from farming (both off-farm and non-farm activities) is mainly wage labour differentiated by wealth group (with the poorest doing piecework on neighbours’ land and working on public works schemes whilst wealthier households seek formal-sector employment in nearby towns and further afield). In a nut shell, diversification away from agriculture is highly seasonal and largely follows a piecework/public works  or wage labour path. Smallholders are constrained in their ability to enter self-employment due to a lack of regular demand, skills, finance as well as cultural attitudes.

There are subtle but important differences between the two districts that highlight the role of both climatic and non-climatic factors in adaptive capacity. This is particularly interesting for geographers as it highlights the spatio-temporal differences that play a role in determining both perception and adaption to climate variability and change (see Weber, 2016). For instance, farmers in Lasta perceive greater changes in the climate than those in Beyeda. We also find that smallholders in Lasta have diversified their livelihoods to a much greater extent. But this has at least as much to do with the proximity to urban opportunities and a construction boom in the nearby town (triggered by public investments) as changing climatic conditions.

Overall, our limited data from Northern Ethiopia suggests that diversification is occurring mainly through wage labour: international, national and regional for wealthier households, local piecework and on public works schemes for poorer households. In this context, policymakers could do worse than look more at how urban-rural connections can support smallholders’ adaptation efforts.

About the authors

Zerihun B. Weldegebriel is an Assistant Professor of Development Studies at Addis Ababa University, Centre for African and Oriental Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Martin Prowse is an Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Department of Human Geography, Lund, Sweden           


books_icon Weber, E. U. 2016. What shapes perceptions of climate change? New research since 2010. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7(1), 125–134.

60-world2 Embassy of the United States US response to the Ethiopian Drought 2015-2016 http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/u.s.-response-to-the-ethiopian-drought.html

Talking and laughing together about the sensitive dynamics of mundane everyday practices

By Alison Browne, University of Manchester 

Laundrette. Photo credit: Michael Robinson

Laundrette. Photo credit: (c) Michael Robinson

Winter Wool Wash. Photo Credit: Alison Browne

Winter Wool Wash. Photo Credit: (c) Alison Browne

Fully loaded? Photo Credit: Alison Browne

Fully loaded? Photo Credit: (c) Alison Browne

When was the last time you washed your sheets, and why did you do it? Was it just part of your regular laundry routine? Were they looking a bit grubby? Did you want to get into a clean bed with clean pyjamas for a special Saturday night in? Were you expecting a new bedfellow and want to make a good impression?

Talk about household sustainability butts up against moral and ethical boundaries regarding the sensitivities and intimacies of our day-to-day lives. While policy or business interventions try to persuade us to use less water or energy, such interventions often unintentionally moralise certain types of behaviours. Recent research by the Pew Research Centre and reported in the Guardian (November 2015) shows that there is still a gap in terms of fair distributions of male/female family and household labour.  As such the practices which they try to influence and intervene with are often very gendered, for example, focusing on how to do more energy and water efficient laundry, a task that is still overwhelming performed by women.

As geographical and allied social science research has tried to understand the dynamics and patterns of everyday resource consumption, the range of methods we use has become increasingly nuanced. Some of these methods such as CCTV or video are often used as a way of understanding how people do everyday practices and give interesting insights into public practices like cycling and mobility.

In a domestic space these forms of surveillance are connected to increasing ‘big data’ capabilities to track and understand the use of resources such as energy and water in the home enabled through the internet of things. However, such methods might not be appropriate given how awkward and intimate some of these resource consuming practices can be (e.g., what motivates you to wash your sheets, or take a shower).

The research methods used to understand everyday resource use related to cleanliness practices in the home (laundry, home cleaning, personal washing) often pushes us towards these intimately political aspects of energy and water use.

In the article “Can people talk about their practices?” I reflect on the need to apply new research methods in order to access and articulate these sensitive dynamics of everyday practice. The research reflects on six focus groups on ‘bodies, clothes, dirt and cleanliness’.  Enabling people to talk together about their practices in light gossip style, with humour and laughter can undo some of the unease that can be experienced when talking about these issues in one-to-one research interviews.

The article explores the ethics and politics of everyday life research in geography, and responds to calls for greater consideration of gender and bodies within human geography research. However, it also highlights the ethical and moral issues of gender embedded in everyday consumption, which is often a target of sustainability policy.

About the author: Dr Alison Browne is a Lecturer in Human Geography and Research Fellow at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester.

books_icon Browne, A. L. (2015), Can people talk together about their practices? Focus groups, humour and the sensitive dynamics of everyday life. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12250

60-world2 Valenti, J. 2015. Men think they do equal work at home, when facts show otherwise. The Guardian

‘Feeling Fat’: Understanding Experiences of Body Size

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month, model Charli Howard spoke out about the “ridiculously, unobtainable beauty standards” in the modelling industry. The size 6 model, weighing 7.5 stone, was told by her agency she was “too fat”. To put this irrationality into context, the average female in the UK weighs 11 stone and is a size 14-16! Whilst the modelling industry promotes their deluded ideals of body size, more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, the majority of whom are females aged 15-25. It’s not just the modelling industry, however; billboards, films, and magazines constantly bombard us with images of tall, slender, ‘perfect’ bodies. It is clear that body size is a serious concern; although two thirds of the UK’s population are allegedly overweight, almost just as many try dieting each year, and the majority of people, particularly females, are unhappy with the way they look.

Body size is not a new area of research in geography, but approaches to studying it are changing. Lloyd and Hopkins’ (2015) recent article in Area considers the ways in which geographers are approaching body size as an inherently geographical phenomenon. Formerly, qualitative methods have dominated this area of research, producing disembodied accounts that tried to quantify the body. Geographers have used rudimentary statistics such as BMI and waist-to-hip ratio in order to map obesity, but this has produced crude links between population statistics and demographic information. Such deterministic understandings of human health based on body size wrongly assume a separation between the mind and the body.

Qualitative approaches – such as interviews, focus groups, and diaries – on the other hand, reveal the lived realities of body size; the feelings, emotions, and embodied experiences of living with our bodies. Body size is, after all, experienced in multiple ways; emotionally, physically, economically, socially, privately, and publicly.

Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) argue that geographical studies of body size have often overlooked the role of emotions. The embodied subjectivities of people – the ways in which our bodies affect our identities – can only be understood by uncovering the private emotional experiences of body size, as well as its public performance. There is a difference between being overweight and feeling overweight; so many people are unhappy with their body size, weight, proportions, and appearance, regardless of whether they are physically ‘overweight’. The subjective, emotionally-loaded nature of the term ‘overweight’ means many people believe themselves to fit into this category even if they are perfectly healthy. This is an issue facing many people in the UK with eating disorders and those who hate the way they look. So pertinent is this problem, that earlier this year a petition with more than 26,000 signatures was successful in forcing Facebook to remove its ‘feeling fat’ emoji, protesters arguing “fat is not a feeling!”

A lot of how we experience our bodies is, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) claim, to do with societal norms and the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’. The cultural and social benefits associated with body size have become part of our everyday, and have been coined ‘thin privilege’; being a smaller size affords many benefits, such as being able to buy designer clothes, feeling comfortable in public places, or avoiding being bullied at school. The modelling industry in the UK is, without doubt, upholding worryingly distorted images of body size. In the modelling world, women’s ‘plus-size’ begins at UK size 10, which is at least one size smaller than the average woman, and is three sizes smaller than the smallest plus-size clothes sold in shops.

There is, however, some headway being made. MPs this September, led by Caroline Nokes, started to consider the need to ban super skinny models on British catwalks, following a petition, 30,000 signatures strong, to introduce health checks during London’s Fashion Week. The petition was started by Rosie Nelson, a size 8 model. Regular health checks would protect young models who, like Charli and Rosie, are undoubtedly pressured to attain unreasonably small body sizes.

Furthermore, in September this year, London hosted ‘Plus Size Fashion Week’, a celebration of women with curves. Such an event is a real step forward in trying to dispel the physical and emotional othering of plus-size women. An article in The Guardian told the ‘confessions of a plus sized model’, Olivia Campbell, a UK size 18-20 model. Speaking of how she had vastly improved in self-confidence, she wisely states; “you cannot determine a person’s health just by looking at them”. Whilst plus size modelling is growing in the UK, there is a lack of plus-size male models. We shouldn’t forget that, whilst a lot of media attention has focused on women, men also suffer from anxiety about the way they look.

Body size is, then, a contentious topic and a real-life concern. By turning to qualitative methods, geographers can contribute to understandings of the ways in which people experience body size. However, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) point out, the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’ means research on body size is fraught with methodological obstacles, most notably participant recruitment. Furthermore, the inherently emotional and subjective nature of body size, as well as the researcher’s own body size, can have significant impacts on research findings.

Our bodies – and our understandings of them – are mutable, changing over space and time, and dependent upon similarly fluid social norms. Body-shaming is all too common in today’s society. The sooner the stigma is removed, and the sooner the social, emotional, and physical othering of people based on their bodies is eradicated, the sooner we can start to improve our understanding of bodily experience.

books_iconLloyd, J. and Hopkins, P. (2015). “Using interviews to research body size: methodological and ethical considerations”, Area, 47(3):305-310.


Howard C 2015 Size 6 model: ‘Why I told my agency to f*** off for calling me fat’ The Telegraph


Sanghani Radhika 2015 Facebook removes its ‘feeling fat’ emoji after thousands complain The Telegraph

60-world2Elgot J 2015 Body image: MPs to consider ban on ultra-thin catwalk models The Guardian

60-world2Marriott H 2015 Plus size fashion week: confessions of a plus sized model The Guardian

60-world2Ferrier M 2015 Where are all the plus-size male models?  The Guardian

Content Alert: New Articles (13th January 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Anthropogenic controls on large wood input, removal and mobility: examples from rivers in the Czech Republic
Lukáš Krejčí and Zdeněk Máčka
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01071.x

Special Section: Exploring the Great Outdoors

‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage
Paul Barratt
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01069.

Special Section: Emerging Subjects, Registers and Spatialities of Migration Methodologies in Asia

Methodological dilemmas in migration research in Asia: research design, omissions and strategic erasures
Rebecca Elmhirst
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01070.x


The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk
Amy R Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00458.x

Original Articles

Diverging pathways: young female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa
Thilde Langevang and Katherine V Gough
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00457.x

Original Articles

Rethinking urban public space: accounts from a junction in West London
Regan Koch and Alan Latham
Article first published online: 19 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00489.x

The social and economic consequences of housing in multiple occupation (HMO) in UK coastal towns: geographies of segregation
Darren P Smith
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00487.x

The reputational ghetto: territorial stigmatisation in St Paul’s, Bristol
Tom Slater and Ntsiki Anderson
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00490.x

Fear of a foreign railroad: transnationalism, trainspace, and (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs
Julie Cidell
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00491.x

Participation in evolution and sustainability
Thomas L Clark and Eric Clark
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00492.x

Boundary Crossings

Progressive localism and the construction of political alternatives
David Featherstone, Anthony Ince, Danny Mackinnon, Kendra Strauss and Andrew Cumbers
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00493.x

The disciplining effects of impact evaluation practices: negotiating the pressures of impact within an ESRC–DFID project
Glyn Williams
Article first published online: 9 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00494.x

Young People, Immigration and Stereotypes

By Kate Botterill

A recent large-scale, attitudinal survey of young people, conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) charity in over 35 countries, found that intolerance towards immigration among English teenagers is higher than the international average, particularly in relation to migrants from within Europe. A longitudinal survey was conducted among teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 and found that attitudes to immigration ‘hardened’ with age.

Professor Kerr from the NFER declared that “they support notions of equality in gender and race in theory, but when it comes to actual immigration, they are less tolerant than young people in the other countries. It could be that we’re living in an increasingly competitive world and they are mainly worried for their own prospects.” I would argue that further research is needed to uncover the detailed reasons for this worrying growth in intolerance towards immigration with age. There is a value in complimenting the evidence gained through large scale longitudinal surveys with qualitative, in-depth research on the identities and subjectivities of young people.

The voices of young people are seldom heard in this way and much of the academic research on the identities and subjectivities of young people perform this function well. In a special issue of Area (vol. 42) this year a number of authors have offered contributions which place importance on young people as key actors in society. One such contribution comes from Caitlin Cahill (2010) who uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) to explore the emotional and economic impacts of immigrant stereotyping on young Latino immigrants living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

By exploring the everyday experiences of young people through an arts-based participatory project, Cahill seeks to ‘reframe’ immigration through the process of PAR. She discusses the geopolitical discourse of immigration in Utah – ‘one of the last white ‘frontiers’’ in the USA – and collaborates with young people to reveal counter-narratives of everyday experience and expressions of resistance that challenge dominant meta-narratives on immigration. Through the use of PAR in researching young people’s lives Cahill is unequivocally ‘acknowledging young people as transformative subjects, not passive victims or the collateral damage of the sweeping forces of globalisation’ (p.160).

Read Peter Walker’s article – ‘Teenagers harden views on immigration as they age’ in The Guardian

Read Cahill, C. (2010) ‘Why do they hate us?’ Reframing immigration through participatory action research. Area, 42(2) pp.152-161