Cultural Heritage and Climate Change Adaptation Pathways
Van Dolah, Elizabeth Rebecca
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This dissertation seeks to ethnographically understand the role of cultural heritage in climate change adaptation decision-making, and the mechanisms by which heritage is used to shape adaptation pathways for responding to climate-induced socio-ecological changes. Cultural heritage can broadly be understood as the practice of engaging with change through an ongoing social processing of the past. Research on cultural heritage to date has demonstrated the ways that heritage is closely linked to issues of identity, power, and sociocultural processes of change (Lafrenz Samuels 2018). In the context of climate change adaptation, heritage research has much to offer to a growing body of literature that points to the need to better understand the underlying sociocultural factors that affect social resilience and human adaptation (Cote and Nightingale 2012). This dissertation speaks to these calls in approaching heritage as a mechanism for carving climate change adaptation pathways. I explore the role of heritage as an adaptation pathway in the context of a collaborative adaptation planning project called the Integrated Coastal Resiliency Assessment (ICRA), which was carried out on the Deal Island Peninsula, a rural, low-lying area on the Maryland eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I utilize qualitative methods in semi-structured interviewing, participant observation, and text analysis to ethnographically elucidate a range of heritage threads and to analyze how these threads shape collaborative adaptation decision-making through the ICRA process. Findings from this research identify three overarching heritage themes that are embedded in local Methodist traditions, traditional watermen livelihood practices, and histories of isolation and independence. I demonstrate how these threads are used to frame local understandings of socio-ecological change and climate change vulnerabilities on the Deal Island Peninsula. I also demonstrate how broader heritage deployments in the Chesapeake Bay shape local experiences of vulnerability through processes of disempowerment. I conclude with a discussion of how heritage is integrated into the ICRA process to facilitate a bottom-up decision-making process that re-empowers local actors in governing their own vulnerabilities. The main conclusion from this research points to the importance of considering heritage mobilization in climate change adaptation planning.