Rural communities across the world face at times a range of environmental, social and economic pressures that threaten their viability in their current form. The ability\ud of local actors to exercise agency in response to potential and emerging threats is of key interest in understanding their capacity to adapt. This paper argues that top-down narratives which focus on canonical organisations and formal institutions are at best a partial account of rural adaptation. More attention needs to be paid to the shadow system, the web of informal and often hidden relationships that permeate public and\ud private life. In the organisational and institutional literature, shadow systems have been discounted as either too complex to be tractable or an inevitable source of corruption and nepotism. Two case studies are presented to establish that neither claim is inexorably true: (i) the adaptation of dairy farmers to market and climate change in\ud Carmarthenshire, South Wales and (ii) NGO mediation of community/state interaction in Tamilnadu, South India. In conclusion, some theoretical and methodological themes are highlighted for further research. These hold the potential\ud to enable a better understanding of the shadow system, and its potential and pitfalls as a site of local agency in rural adaptation.\ud Acnowledgements: This paper draws on learning from two research projects: (i) 'Rapid climate change in the UK: towards an institutional theory of adaptation', funded by the UK Economic and Social Science Research Council's Environment and Human Behaviour Programme, and (ii) 'Thaan Vuzha Nilam Tharisu: The land without a farmer becomes barren', carried out by SPEECH, a Tamil NGO, as part of a larger International Institute for Environment and Development research programme – 'Policies that Work for Sustainable Agriculture and Regenerating Rural Economies.ï¿½ The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial and institutional assistance that made this research possible
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