Research

Beth’s research explores human-nature relationships and local responses to climate change using an ethnographic methodology. It covers a range of topics including:

  • Suburban relationships with nature in Australia
  • Environmental change and the Anthropocene
  • Human relationships with the more-than-human world
  • The local communication of climate change
  • The process of disaster recovery in the context of climate change
  • The relationship between vulnerability and resilience
  • Community processes of anticipation and adaptation

Between bushfire and climate change: Uncertainty, silence and anticipation following the October 2013 fires in the Blue Mountains, Australia (PhD thesis)

Based on 18 months of ethnographic research in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, following the catastrophic October 2013 bushfires, this thesis investigates the local community response to this disaster as they rebuilt their destroyed homes and recovered. The ambiguity and disagreement surrounding the connection between climate change and the bushfires are analysed as a foundational aspect of how climate change was materialising for residents in daily life. Ambivalence, uncertainty, silence and contradiction characterised the public and private discourse about a heating world in this community.

This thesis shows that people’s engagement with climate change is an unstable and iterative process in which local culture and context, in this instance the context of disaster, are of central importance. Local frontline workers avoided articulating the  threatening prospect of climate change catastrophe by focusing on a more comprehensible narrative about the prevailing bushfire threat that could be addressed through existing preparedness measures. The lack of shared public narrative that connected local realities with global climate change meant that people continued to relate to it as an abstract and distant phenomenon, even as they confronted its effects in rising insurance premiums, changed building codes, and shifting bushfire seasons.

This research contributes to the understanding of a contemporary Western cosmology, that is, to a particular self-world relationship that is implicated in the causes of climate change and that continues to inform local responses to environmental change in Australia. Additionally, this inquiry elucidates the fraught relationship between vulnerability and responsibility for suburban residents in an era of climate change.

If you are interested in reading more detailed summary of this research, please contact Beth directly. To access her PhD thesis click here.