Faculty: Rebecca Elliott, Department of Social Policy
Research Assistant: Freya Blackmore, Department of Government
From massive sea walls, to living breakwaters, to fire-resistant design: climate change adaptation is underway across the United States. In a context of uneven local funds and federal support, some American towns and cities have begun to marshal immense financial, political, and intellectual resources to confront and prepare for the worst effects of climate change. This adaptation often takes the form of major investments in new infrastructure projects meant to defend existing landscapes of people and property from the encroachment of rising seas, extremes of heat and cold, and more intense natural disasters.
This project will explore these efforts to ‘stay put’ in the face of climate change to develop what can be termed a sociology of incumbency. Incumbency captures often-implicit commitments to preserving present arrangements of people and property as is, and to reproducing the familiar land uses, skylines, nebulous character of a place, routines of life, and identities those arrangements generate. This project will examine the following: how, where, and why incumbency matters; who or what stays put; what accounts for the uneven resonance of claims to incumbency or incumbent status; and how the physical and social conditions favouring incumbency are (re)produced.
The RA (Research Assistant) will focus on climate change adaptation infrastructure that is intended to protect against the effects of sea level rise and intensifying storms. Coastal US municipalities are in some ways the liveliest empirical contexts to see developments in infrastructure for climate change adaptation unfold. Floods are already the costliest natural disaster in the US and, with over $13 trillion in property at risk in coastal areas, as well as large and dense populations, there is much at stake. These cities are the locations of billion-dollar design competitions, engineering collaborations with water experts from around the world, and new partnerships between public agencies and private firms – all oriented towards armouring the coast.
The RA’s goals for the year will be to a) empirically characterize the range of infrastructure projects underway, to b) support the development of the sociological dimensions of incumbency, and c) contribute to research design and early interview data collection for the next phase of the project.