UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Expecting the sea : displacement and the environment on Sri Lanka's east coast Lehman, Jessica


In this thesis, I explore the relationship between displacement and the environment on Sri Lanka’s East coast. In particular, I analyze the intersections between armed conflict, the 2004 tsunami, and climate change, and the ways they are enlisted to pose threats to impoverished people living on the coast. My tactic is following the ocean as an actor, employing a relational ontology. I bring posthumanist literature into conversation with social theory of the sea, as well as current literature on the scientific and social impacts of climate change. I also work with an understanding of uncertainty, partiality, and ethical complications at the foreground of my analysis. The empirics for my study are based on six weeks fieldwork in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. In the first chapter, I provide background on Sri Lanka’s unique situation, introduce the concept of “framing” with regards to environment and displacement debates as well as conflict, disaster, and climate change, and explain my theoretical inspirations. In the second chapter, I set the conditions for closely following the ocean, exploring the cultural and biological role of the sea and its specific meanings in Sri Lanka and during my research. The third chapter explores the implications of centering the ocean in a relational approach on Sri Lanka’s coast. I argue that the co-constitution of climate change and the 2004 tsunami becomes apparent when taking a relational perspective. Finally, I conclude my analysis in the fourth chapter, by revisiting concepts of vulnerability that I discussed in the first chapter with an approach that centers and values relationships between humans and nonhuman others. In this way, I posit an alternative framing that considers factors deemed ‘the environment’ as active participants in performances of displacement and resistance.

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