Fluid Boundaries: The Social Construction and Memory of Future Catastrophic Environmental Risk in a Community on the Oregon Coast
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The Oregon coast is facing the dual perils of climate change and the catastrophic Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami, yet many communities remain unprepared. Using qualitative interviews with residents of Coos Bay, Oregon, this study traces how communities facing these perils socially construct their visions of change by “remembering the future” and how this future memory influences unsettlement that, in turn, can trigger revision of strategies of action to deal with environmental risk. Participants understood these risks through three interrelated themes: analogy to familiar circumstances such as regular winter flooding, narratives of isolation and self-reliance based in collective history, and visions of symbolic preparedness. Each of these themes drew the conversation away from the material reality of environmental catastrophe, reducing relative unsettlement. Since the way that communities collectively understand environmental risk may influence preparatory action, these observations can help to explain the disjunction between knowledge of risks and response.