DCRP Lecture: Summer Gray

Lecture | March 6 | 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. | 112 Wurster Hall

 College of Environmental Design

Holding Back the Tide: Coastal Infrastructure, Resilience, and Justice in Guyana and the Maldives

Today, seawalls are at the center of a debate about the future of coastal development, a debate that affects communities across the planet, from cities and private homes to far-away places and entire island nations. With sea change looming on the horizon and nearly half of the world’s populations living within 50km of the coast, there is a renewed interest in shoreline stabilization and technologies of coastal modification. Although scientists and environmentalists warn of the damaging effects of hard structures, few understand the broader historical and cultural dimensions of coastal development and how these histories continue to shape the social dilemmas inherent in the planning and construction of seawalls. As some call for adaptation funds and technological fixes, others are pointing to the roots of coastal vulnerability, calling instead for social justice and climate action. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Guyana, the Netherlands, the Maldives, and Japan, this talk journeys into the world of adaptive infrastructure, paradoxical desires, and impending disasters at the water’s edge. Through the interwoven stories of seawalls, mangroves, artificial islands, and coral reefs, I demonstrate how infrastructures of resilience are embedded within social practices that are being negotiated alongside the changing political and ecological realities of the twenty-first century.

Summer M. Gray is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on connecting flows of knowledge and practices of coastal engineering with the emerging and uneven geographies of climate change. As part of her dissertation, “If These Walls Could Talk: A Global Ethnography of Sea Change,” she conducted a relational ethnography of seawalls in order to trace the ways in which climate vulnerability and environmental injustice are being shaped by configurations of science, politics, and power.