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Where land meets sea: islands, erosion and the thing-power of hard coastal protection structures

Arnall, A. ORCID: (2022) Where land meets sea: islands, erosion and the thing-power of hard coastal protection structures. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. ISSN 2514-8494

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1177/25148486221101461


In the last few decades, hard coastal protection structures, such as seawalls and groynes, have become increasingly commonplace around the world. Conventionally, the effects of such structures have been considered within a modernist framework that evaluates the degree of human control over the land-sea interface. However, this dominant viewpoint overlooks the central role that sea defences play in the ongoing production of coastal communities, particularly in small island states. This paper responds to these issues by revealing how coastal protection structures, as contingently performed material configurations, are devised and come into being and the social relations that they create and influence. Drawing on empirical research undertaken on a small island in the Maldives over a period of six years, the paper demonstrates not only the challenges that coastal communities face in attempting to exert control over the unruly sea but also the thing-power of the protection measures themselves that are made and unmade as part of this process. These findings suggest the need for sensitivity towards the social roles and effects of hard coastal protection structures when devising approaches and policies that might see the decommissioning of such structures in favour of softer, ‘nature-based’ responses to the vitality of the nonhuman world. As structures with their own unique material complexities, hard defence measures are deeply involved in the production of multinatural island futures.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of International Development
ID Code:104959


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