By Cormac Walsh, Hamburg University, and Martin Döring, Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht
Coasts are gaining increased attention worldwide as sites of dramatic and disruptive environmental change. Coastal settlements and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise (Moser et al 2012). Exploitation of marine resources also contributes to coastal change, resulting in subsidence or loss of land at coastal locations, including at Louisiana and the Dutch Wadden Sea (Wernick 2014, Neslen 2017). Despite the evident interweaving of the natural and the social, the ecological, and the political at the coast, coastal geography has long been firmly positioned within the domain of physical geography with comparatively little input from human geographers. Indeed within the social sciences more generally, coastal and marine spaces have tended to be marginalised in favour of land-based narratives of societal development (e.g. Gillis 2012, Peters et al. 2018).
Physical, social, economic, and cultural processes come together at the coast, and meanings become enmeshed and intertwined. The power of the sea and the physical evidence of geomorphological change at the coast is a reminder of the materiality of place and the potential for dramatic and disruptive change. But coastal landscapes are also lived spaces, often embodying historical narratives of struggles against the sea, building coastal defences, reclaiming land, and learning to work with the daily and seasonal rhythms of a dynamic and fluid environment. In our recently published Special Section of Area on ‘Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change’ (Walsh & Döring 2018), we bring together diverse perspectives concerned with the cultural dimensions of understanding, interpreting and responding to processes of both environmental and socioeconomic change at the coast. In recognition of the need for a broad spectrum of diverse perspectives, we deliberately write of cultural geographies in the plural. Indeed our understanding of cultural geographies extends beyond the discipline of geography itself, to embrace related endeavours in the environmental humanities (Palsson et al. 2013) and the applied field of spatial planning (McElduff & Ritchie). The papers in the Special Section address issues of place attachment and climate change adaptation at the Wadden Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands (Döring & Ratter, Van der Vaart et al, Walsh), conflicting perspectives on marine conservation in the Scottish Hebrides (Brennan), questions of land- and seascape designation in the UK (Leyshon) and pathways towards place-based coastal resilience in Ireland, North and South (McElduff and Ritchie).
Conceptually, the Special Section explores the concepts of ‘liminality’, ‘metageographies’, and the ‘coast-multiple’ in an effort to grasp the complexity of a multiplicity of ways of knowing the coast, and the potential for coastal places to occupy in-between-spaces of possibility and alterity at the boundary between the land and the sea. We emphasise the need for a reconceptualization of the coast which opens up possibilities for imagining alternative futures, of thinking the coast differently (Leyshon 2018, also Köpsel et al 2017). We thus seek to move beyond established categories of mutually exclusive land and sea spaces, natural and cultural landscapes and fixed, immovable coastlines in favour of a hybrid geography of fluid and dynamic spaces of hybrid nature-culture relations (also Ryan 2011, Satizabal & Batterbury 2017). Such spaces of possibility require inclusive processes of dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders and community interests, proactive, forward-looking leadership and informed input from the social sciences, humanities, and arts (McElduff & Ritchie 2018, van der Vaart et al 2018). It is hoped that the Special Section will provide a point of departure for future engagements with the complex geographies of socio-environmental change at the coast.
About the authors: Dr Cormac Walsh is an environmental geographer at Hamburg University, Institute for Geography. He is also co-editor of the recently launched Marine Coastal Cultures research blog. Dr. Martin Döring is an interdisciplinary researcher in the Human Dimensions of Coastal Areas Working Group at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht.