Resilience to Climate Change: An Ethnographic Approach

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Global projections for climate change impacts produce a startling picture of the future for low-lying coastal communities. The United States’ Chesapeake Bay region and especially marginalized and rural communities will be severely impacted by sea level rise and other changes over the next one hundred years. The concept of resilience has been theorized as a measure of social-ecological system health and as a unifying framework under which people can work together towards climate change adaptation. But it has also been critiqued for the way in which it does not adequately take into account local perspective and experiences, bringing into question the value of this concept as a tool for local communities. We must be sure that the concerns, weaknesses, and strengths of particular local communities are part of the climate change adaptation, decision-making, and planning process in which communities participate. An example of this type of planning process is the Deal Island Marsh and Community Project (DIMCP), a grant funded initiative to build resilience within marsh ecosystems and communities of the Deal Island Peninsula area of Maryland (USA) to environmental and social impacts from climate change. I argue it is important to have well-developed understandings of vulnerabilities and resiliencies identified by local residents and others to accomplish this type of work. This dissertation explores vulnerability and resilience to climate change using an engaged and ethnographic anthropological perspective. Utilizing participant observation, semi-structured and structured interviews, text analysis, and cultural domain analysis I produce an in-depth perspective of what vulnerability and resilience means to the DIMCP stakeholder network. Findings highlight significant vulnerabilities and resiliencies inherent in the local area and how these interface with additional vulnerabilities and resiliencies seen from a nonlocal perspective. I conclude that vulnerability and resilience are highly dynamic and context-specific for the local community. Vulnerabilities relate to climate change and other social and environmental changes. Resilience is a long-standing way of life, not a new concept related specifically to climate change. This ethnographic insight into vulnerability and resilience provides a basis for stronger engagement in collaboration and planning for the future.