Retreat: Moving to Higher Ground in a Climate-Changed City


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Media, Culture, and Communication


This project is an ethnographic study of managed retreat, the process of relocating people and unbuilding land in places vulnerable to rising seas, stronger storms, and other effects of climate change. It is based on fieldwork in the New York City borough of Staten Island, where hundreds of residents lobbied the government after Hurricane Sandy to buy out their damaged homes, returning neighborhoods to wetlands rather than rebuilding. By examining how a community organizes to disperse itself, the project investigates the social and cultural consequences of collective human movement away from the water. It argues that community-led retreat, unlike other forms of forced relocation and displacement, offers a socially just and environmentally sustainable way to adapt to climate change.