Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Development Sociology, Cornell University
Uncertain Tides: The Politics of Coastal Landlessness and Nature-Based Climate Adaptation in Fiji

Over 200 squatter settlements, home to almost 20% of Fiji's urban population, have emerged on Fiji's coast by taking advantage of uncertain land tenure rules on the foreshore, where state control is moderated by indigenous usufruct rights. Having built their homes within the flooding mangroves, the squatters inhabit one of the most climate vulnerable landscapes in Fiji. Like many small island states, Fiji is already experiencing increased intensity in storm surges and tropical cyclones which exacerbate flooding. Squatter communities in Fiji's coastal capital, Suva, have long withstood these conditions with minimal state care. As Fiji implements its National Adaptation Plan (NAP), published in December 2018, there will be changes to how the mangrove-lined foreshores are governed, and thus, how the squatters occupying these lands come into contact with the state. It is significant that the NAP identifies coastal restoration as a priority for climate security, while making no mention of the importance of mangroves as a resource to squatters. This tension has spurred divisions within squatter communities about what adaptation will mean for livelihoods and what political tactics are best suited to address this change; it has also heightened the demand on local government agencies to negotiate the adequate provisioning of environmental and social care. Building from experience working with squatter community groups and government agencies in Fiji, my dissertation examines the politics of climate change from the perspective of both the state and squatter communities to understand adaptation as a social and political process beyond the exigencies of climate change. This research addresses the global anxiety of islands under environmental threat but challenges the naturalizing narrative that this vulnerability is a predetermined characteristic of homogeneous island states by focusing on the active negotiations over appropriate provisioning of social and ecological security.