Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Terrence McCabe

Second Advisor

Dennis McGilvray

Third Advisor

Paul Shankman

Fourth Advisor

Mara Goldman

Fifth Advisor

Emily Yeh


Development organizations in West Africa are increasingly framing projects in terms of climate change. Scientific reports and local environmental knowledge seem to be in agreement that temperatures are increasing and rainfall is more variable. Yet this agreement belies vast epistemic differences that explain why the climate is changing, what type of development intervention is needed, who is responsible, and how projects ought to be implemented.

In this dissertation I examine the knowledges of the environment and development held by rural residents and development workers. Using Cultural Model Analysis, I reveal that there are two models of climate change in operation during the development moment. Residents of the communities Tama and Ouegoulega in central Burkina Faso hold Model 1, which states God is changing rainfall in order to punish poor social behaviors. Development agents hold Model 2, which defines climate change technoscientifically. The most significant factor that determines whether one holds Model 1 or Model 2 is the length of public education. The models of climate change, however, do not represent distinct epistemes, but are socio-historically interconnected through formal education and external government and development intervention. I also show that despite the socio-historical interconnections, the models are perpetuated through distinct social structures of acquisition.

Through semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and participant observation, I reveal that the models of climate change are embedded within wider knowledge-networks that consist of conceptualizations of development, capacity, and responsibility. I illustrate that within the development moment, the knowledges held by rural residents and development workers delineate a range of possible actions, or tactics, that facilitate the success of some projects while constraining others. This investigation reveals that development projects are social spaces in which residents and development agents subtly and overtly negotiate the truth-value of their knowledges. Understanding development projects in this way has implications for development policy and applications for cross-cultural collaboration.