Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson,


University of Sussex

Year of Publication:



This study responds to the need for more research around (im)mobility decision-making to better support people facing environmental shocks and climatic changes. The concept of Trapped Populations, first appeared with the release of the 2011 Foresight report yielding repeated use in environmental migration studies and to a more limited extent policy. Although a seemingly straightforward concept, referring to people’s inability to move away from environmental high-risk areas despite a desire to do so, the underlying reasons for someone’s immobility can be profoundly complex. The empirical literature body referring to ‘trapped’ populations has similarly taken a fairly simple and narrow economic explanatory approach. A more comprehensive understanding around how immobility is narrated in academia, and how people’s cultural, social and psychological background in Bangladesh influences their (im)mobility, can provide crucial research insights. To better protect and support people living with environmental shocks and changes worldwide we need to build robust and well-informed policy frameworks

To achieve this, a set of discourse analyses were carried out. Firstly, a textual Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) reviewed how ‘trapped’ has been framed within academia. Secondly, a Foucauldian inspired discourse analysis was performed on field data to explore how power, knowledge and and binary opposites shape and determine people’s social norms in terms of their (im)mobility decision-making. These key concepts critically showcased how meaning, values and power can constrain the mobility of a social group. The analysis was carried out on a large set of field data gathered between 2014 and 2016 in Bangladesh. The data on urban immobility and rural non-evacuation behaviour was gathered through a mixed-method quant-qualitative approach that included Q-methodology, storytelling group sessions, in-depth interviews and a survey questionnaire. Other key concepts used to frame the analysis included those of subjectivity, gender, place and space.
The textual discourse analysis highlighted the dangers of framing mobility or resettlement as a potential climate adaptation. Assisted migration, could for example end up disguising other hidden political and economic agendas. The research identified how the empirical notions of ‘trapped’ move beyond economic immobility. People in Bangladesh described being socially, psychologically and emotionally ‘trapped’. These empirical notions are useful within the area of climate policy, as they raise questions around whether mobility in fact is the solution.

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