Who’s listening? Who’s not listening?

Pondering out to sea

Me, pondering out to sea

I am diving deeper and deeper each day into the world of humanities, as my beach happiness research journey is unveiling the vast knowledges that contribute and could contribute to the everyday governance of beaches.

If you didn’t know, the coast has many layers of policy and planning frameworks that are suppose to integrate the social, environmental and economic elements that are meaningful to communities and services the needs of the coast. Basically provide a way to manage and celebrate the human and nonhuman elements that make coasts special, vibrant and unique. Though, due to the quantifiable nature and output of short term answers, the ‘powerful knowledge coalition’ of the environmental sciences and economics drive the coastal policy agenda in pursuit of environmental sustainable development (1). Meaning coastal policy is largely circumscribed by the ‘hard’ sciences, leaving humanities and cultural studies out of the integrated pie (1).

Now I don’t think this is entirely a bad approach. Rather falls short (too short) to encompass the real diversity of knowledge coasts’ have to offer (1). I expect some of my peers to debate otherwise, but current coastal community participation in coastal management is not and can not solely be the social element integrated coastal zone management suggests. As current approaches to such participation is still framed by the ‘powerful knowledge coalition’ (1).

Trust me, when I figured this out I was stunned into silence and found myself questioning everything – every award, outcome and relationship I have achieved in just over half a decade for my coast. Again, I don’t think current approaches to coastal community participation is bad… rather falls short (too short) of what can and needs to be achieved. I have been debating this internally with my culture – the ‘hard’ sciences – without much success, and most of the time seen as a trouble maker… or ‘out there’. No wonder I am jumping ships to discover the world of humanities.

Now this leads into my next argument. That we need to freshen up our approaches to coastal management, in it’s entirety, by shifting focus from short term quantified outputs and decisions based on market values to cultural and social indicators that entwine the very essence of the coast (1). But this can only be achieved when the bureaucrats of the coast fly the white flag and acknowledge community knowledge to breakdown the battle between the science expert vs the community expert – a battle that continues to bear sour fruits.

Wow, I think I can finally breathe. Or take another breath.

Foxwell-Norton (2013), beautifully critiques the framework that governs Australia’s beaches and debates for community knowledge to be a cornerstone theme of coastal policy (1). Her research clearly defines the limitation being at the ‘coalface’ engagement divide – didn’t I say battle? – between the science experts and the community experts (1). For instance, while one bureaucrat questions the definition of ‘expert’, as they believe community efforts don’t have much expertise based on what comes across their desk (1). The community in question prove their expertise with having walked the shores for over 30 years and the ability to mind-map the dynamics of the sediment transport (1). Obviously cultural tensions on what constitutes ‘expert knowledge’ are constricting valuable outcomes for the coast (1).

Now I have only recently come to think that the issue here largely resides in the coastal community participation model framed by the ‘hard’ sciences – and I’m one of those contributing authors. Even I’ve framed the limiting model to the bible and the only way to engage community in coastal management, as where there is an issue or need to share ‘hard’ science, we see this model as a cost effective one-way approach to instil expert knowledge in the community – but hey, when the community come back to comment or suggest an idea they are deemed as non-expert, therefore, silenced… and then the tangent continues.

Thus, I think the engagement spectrum that the ‘hard’ sciences offer in an attempt to integrate social values for coastal management needs to be flipped. As participation is not a one-way approach, you can’t have coastal community participation on its own. Clearly this opens up a whole new engagement spectrum where the community could be driving coastal ‘expert’ (those deemed as experts in current models) participation. Maybe this is where humanities and cultural studies could play a practical role in coastal management? – as the field suggests (1).

1. Foxwell-Norton, K. (2013) Communication, culture, community and country: the lost seas of environmental policy, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, Vol. 27 (2), pp: 267–282.

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