Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Discourses of Vulnerability: Kiribati, I-Kiribati Women and Forced Migration Due to Climate Change

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posted on 2021-11-13, 12:23 authored by Mansfield, Holly

Discourses of vulnerability abound in climate change literature; both particular types of places and particular groups of people are routinely considered especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Such discourses are employed by the international community in a technical manner—attempting to categorise current and expected degrees of impact on places and populations—and also to support the advocacy of urgent action to respond to climate change. This thesis examines the manner in which discourses of vulnerability are being invoked in discussions about the impacts of climate change and considers what impact this has on the people and places that are being described in this way. This research focuses specifically on Kiribati and I-Kiribati women and explores, in particular, how the debate about forced migration (as a possible outcome of climate change) has been shaped by vulnerability discourses. Both Kiribati, as a specific type of geographical entity, and women, as a category of people, have been described as having extreme vulnerability to climate change. It is not new for either Pacific Islands or women to be framed as “vulnerable”; however with the increased attention to climate change, vulnerability discourses are being used with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to find literature on the Pacific and women that does not reference their vulnerability. The use of such an emotive term raises questions. Who is naming and claiming vulnerability? What impact does such language have on those that are portrayed in this way? And, what are the long-term consequences of such terminology being used? Interesting questions are also raised regarding discursive similarities between presentations of vulnerable women and vulnerable islands. This thesis addresses these questions by analysing international literature on climate change and forced migration—especially that produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—between 1990 and 2007, and contrasting this with close analysis of public discourse from two vocal I-Kiribati advocates, Pelenise Alofa and Maria Tiimon, from 2009 to 2011. Conclusions are drawn from this analysis regarding the power relationships embedded in discourse, and the possible ramifications of language use for the construction of policy.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Pacific Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

960311 Social Impacts of Climate Change and Variability

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Va’aomanū Pasifika


Henderson, April