Coastal Erosion as a Social Practice
To understand the emerging and uneven geographies of sea change, I look at practices of coastal reclamation and social relationships with erosion across space and time, from colonial encounters to development schemes and climate adaptation. Not only do humans cause erosion, they formulate ideas about erosion that can lead to social conflict and increased vulnerability to sea change. My earlier work on the history and politics of seawalls in Guyana examined how encounters with erosion altered the coastline, resulting in the development of a two-hundred mile sea defense structure. My dissertation examined this problem on a greater spatial and temporal scale by tracing the long history of coastal countermeasures in the Netherlands and introducing the case of the Maldives, where a seawall built by the Japanese harbors similar conflicts. Through the interwoven stories of Guyana, the Netherlands, the Maldives, and Japan, I show how these encounters fuel social conflict, transform the coast, and shape the politics of climate change adaptation. This work was awarded the Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Award in Social Sciences, an honor given to one dissertation every two years at UC Santa Barbara.
- Room for the Sea: An Ethnography of Loss, Reclamation, and Impermanence (manuscript in process)
- Gray, Summer. 2014. “Gone Before the Wave.” The Occupied Times of London, 26: 9.
Political Cultures of Resistance and the Climate Justice Movement
A second theme of my work is focused on ideas about climate justice and struggles to mitigate the uneven impacts of climate change. I have written about the specific case of the Maldives, a small island nation once at the forefront of the climate justice movement, as well as youth activists at the U.N. Climate Treaty Negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. I have also written on the concept of “Marine Environmental Justice” with members of the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar on Sea Change at UC Santa Barbara. In 2013, I co-founded the Climate Justice Project to bring scholars and activists together in a mission to “re-imagine the world in which we live in order to make way for new possibilities.” I am currently working on an edited volume with Azra Naseem and John Foran to address the hidden social and cultural aspects of climate change in the Maldives by bringing together a range of insights from scholars and activists who link the struggle for the future to the struggle for democracy.
- Gray, Summer, Azra Naseem, and John Foran, Eds. The Fight For the Maldives: Religion, Democracy, Climate Justice (manuscript in process)
- Martin, J., E. Aceves, P. Alagona, S. Cordoba, C. Elfes, T. Elwell, A. Garcia, S.Gray, Z. Horton, D. Lopez-Carr, J.M. Kenyon, K.M. Miller, C.N. Severen, T. Shewry, B. Wright. “Marine Environmental Justice” (In Review).
- Ellis, Corrie, John Foran, and Summer Gray. “Radical Climate Justice at the U.N. Treaty Negotiations: Political Cultures of Resistance and Opposition among the Global Youth Climate Justice Movement,” in Bron Taylor et al. eds. Ecological Resistance Movements in the Twenty-First Century: The Continuing Global Struggle for Biocultural Survival and Multispecies Justice (Forthcoming).
- Gray, Summer and John Foran. 2015. “Climate Injustice: The Real History of the Maldives.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 59: 14-25.
Climate Adaptation and the Shifting Geographies of Beach Sand
My future research involves connecting the politics of climate adaptation to the emerging field of Anthropocene Studies. I am a newcomer to this area, but have plans to engage in a relational ethnography of sand extraction to understand the social and geological forces that leave some populations vulnerable to sea change while allowing others to engage in projects of coastal resiliency. In this new study, I am interested in the movement of sand as inextricably linked to social and environmental injustices that are often overlooked by climate adaptation discourses and practices. As a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz, I served as a discussant for Anna Tsing’s workshop on the theme of “Planetary Transitions: Critical Landscape Ecologies of the Anthropocene” and I will be presenting preliminary research at the upcoming “Development in Question” conference at Cornell University.