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12 Cultural Dynamics of Adaptation to Climate Change: An Example from the East Coast of the US

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Chapter Summary

This contribution explores the role of culture in relation to local knowledge and values as displayed in the interpretations and actions of distinct groups of residents, concerning adapting to climate change in Dorchester County. Situated in the Mid-Atlantic area on the East Coast of the US, Dorchester County is at risk due to projected high sea level rise, flooding, salinisation and increased erosion. The research is based on a theoretical position that interpretation of risks and responses by distinct groups are shaped by frames or systems of cultural knowledge and values. For our study region, we were interested in which ways local knowledge and values of major cultural groups (e.g. watermen, farmers, winemakers, trappers), shape their understanding and perceptions of climate change risks, and in turn the consequences of that cultural knowledge in terms of vulnerability, adaptation and resilience. Our research also includes perspectives of under-represented, poor African Americans for whom threats posed by natural hazards and anthropogenic changes are disproportionately proximate. Fur­ther­more, we incorporate perspectives of employees from the local zoning and planning department, views that allow us to better understand the policy contexts of our study groups’ different cultural perspectives. Methodologically speaking, our findings are based on ethnographic methods (including qualitative interviews with key cultural groups in Dorchester County, and a quantitative survey from a workshop with coastal authorities from several Chesapeake Bay counties) as well as document analysis. In particular, we focus on images of nature, sense of place and change, risk perception and barriers. In addition, we also consider socio-economic factors such as economic development and public and private (coastal) property issues. We found that the beliefs and values of a distinct group of people in a given region shape their perceptions of climate change and hence their responses to changes in the environment and their communities.

10.1163/9789004300712_014
/content/books/b9789004300712_014
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