Doctoral Dissertation Research: Anticipation, Catastrophic Flooding, and Canal Infrastructure in Urban Coastal Settings


Audra Simpson
Professor of Anthropology
Stephanie Ratte
PhD Student


Flood risks are a chronic concern for many coastal inhabitants, and considerable effort may be invested to mitigate those risks. In many settings, however, projected future flood risks are sufficiently great that infrastructural mitigation strategies are limited. In such settings, how do residents and other stakeholders adapt to the prospect of rapid coastal change? This dissertation research examines the social, political, and material effects of planning for flood events and climate change for coastal urban waterways. Using a complement of anthropological methods, the project investigates the varied questions and possibilities around flooding faced by governments and communities as they consider adjusting life in places that are already challenged by toxic waters, constrained infrastructure, and concretized landscapes. In attending to concerns around urban flood risk management, this project also contributes to a greater understanding of the promises and challenges of infrastructure development and expansion. The research supports the training of a graduate student in methods of empirical data collection and analysis, and results are disseminated widely through academic and non-academic avenues, including to organizations concerned with environmental politics and policies.

This research brings together scholarship in anthropologies of the environment and infrastructure, critical indigenous and settler colonial studies, and anthropologies of climate change and crisis, to examine how people imagine, anticipate, and call upon diverse possibilities in remaking coastal landscapes. The researcher examines how water and infrastructure are understood, managed, and acted upon as part of these challenges and the ethics, politics, and knowledge that are revealed as the multifaceted threats of climate change confront the present formation and continued existence of coastal landscapes. The research design includes the use of participant observation, interviews, life histories, discourse analysis, and archival research to examine processes of change and efforts to respond in anticipation of possible catastrophes. The resulting findings allow for greater understandings of social and economic adaptations to coastal flood risks in urban settings.