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Staging Climate Security: Resilience and Heterodystopia in the Bangladesh Borderlands

By Jason Cons

Cite As:
Cons, Jason. 2018. “Staging Climate Security: Resilience and Heterodystopia in the Bangladesh Borderlands.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 2: 266–294.


This essay interrogates an emergent genre of development projects that seek to instill resilience in populations likely to be severely impacted by climate change. These new projects venture a dark vision of life in a warming world—one where portable technologies become necessary for managing a future of climate chaos. I propose, following Michel Foucault, understanding these projects as heterodystopias: spaces managed as and in anticipation of a world of dystopian climate crisis that are at once stages for future interventions and present-day spectacles of climate security. My exploration of these projects is situated in the borderlands of Bangladesh, a space increasingly imagined as a ground zero of climate change. The projects discussed frame the borderlands as a site that reflects forward onto a multiplicity of (other) dystopian spaces to come. Their often puzzling architecture reveals a grim imagining of the future: one in which atomized resilient families remain rooted in place, facing climate chaos alone, assisted by development technology. In this way, these projects seek to mitigate against global anxiety about climate displacement by emplacing people—preventing them from migrating across borders increasingly imagined as the front lines of climate security. Yet at the same time, these projects speak a visual language that suggests they are as much about representing success at managing climate crisis to an audience elsewhere as they are to successfully stemming climate migration in a particular place. Heterodystopia provides an analytic for diagnosing the specific visions of time and space embedded in securitized framings of the future. In doing so, however, it also points toward counterimaginations and possibilities for life in the midst of ecological change. I thus conclude by contrasting climate heterodystopias with other projects that Bangladeshi peasants living in the borderlands are carrying out: projects that offer different ways of imagining the environment and life in the borderlands of Bangladesh.


borders; climate change; development; resilience; security; Bangladesh; South Asia