Paper at RGS-IBG 2016: Adaptive coastal governance in practice: A critical analysis of long‐term multi‐stakeholder strategy‐making at the German Wadden Sea Coast

At the RGS-IBG annual international conference at Imperial College London, this week, I presented a paper in a session on Governing Adaptation (abstract below). The paper sought to examine recent practices of adaptive coastal governance at the Wadden Sea Coast of Germany. The paper draws on research interviews conducted by the author in February of this year. The research will feed into my larger DFG project on Wadden Sea coastal management, due to formally kick-off later this month.



The federal state of Schleswig-Holstein has recently published a strategy to guide coastal management and nature protection at the Wadden Sea coast for the period up to 2100. In the context of climate change adaptation, a space has opened up for a common strategy; jointly prepared and claimed by stakeholders in both coastal protection and nature protection. This multi-stakeholder approach has emerged against the background of a governance landscape hitherto characterised by vertically-integrated sectoral governance and a history of antagonistic relations between actors in coastal and nature protection. This paper critically examines the extent to which the Wadden Sea 2100 strategy represents a transformative paradigm shift towards adaptive multi-stakeholder coastal governance. The analysis, drawing on qualitative interviews with key participants, will focus in particular on the interaction of diverse knowledge frames, institutional rationalities and understandings of nature-culture relations in the strategy-making process.


Coastal landscapes as Boundary Spaces: Wadden Sea Dykes and the Materiality of Coastal Places

In January, I presented a paper at the fourteenth New Cultural Geographies Conference, hosted this year by the Karl-Franz University, Graz, Austria. The abstract is reproduced below. The paper sought to engage with recent debates on the place materiality, following the cultural turn in human geography.


Coastal land- and seascapes constitute liminal, boundary spaces, occupying fluid zones of transition, between the land and the sea (Leyshon 2015). Despite a long history of fixing coastlines on maps and charts, the boundary between the land and the sea defies precise measurement and is characterised by rhythms of change across multiple time-scales. In the context of global climate change, coasts are increasingly recognised to be vulnerable places facing uncertain futures. Understanding coastal places requires appreciation of the powerful material presence of the physical land and seascape and its influence on daily rhythms, local weather patterns and everyday spatial practices. Coastal places moreover are frequently characterised by historical narratives of struggle against the sea, histories of the loss of land and its retaking through material spatial practices of dyking and land reclamation. Recognition of the particularity of coastal landscapes has led to historical and contemporary studies of coastal identity and place attachment among coastal communities (e.g. Fischer, N. 2007, Fischer, L. 2011, Ratter & Gee 2012). Recent contributions by McKinnon and Brennan (2012) and Gee (2015) among others, step across the boundary from the land to the sea providing new insights into the individual perception and social construction of places at the sea. In this context, place attachment to individual seascapes is understood to be influenced by the full range of sensory perceptions and emotional associations, including particular sounds, smells, and memories in addition to visual aspects (Gee 2015). Conceptually, the physical materiality of coastal places provides a counterpoint to contemporary constructivist and poststructural readings of space as relational, socially constructed and cosmopolitan (c.f. Massey 2009, Tomaney 2012). Attention to coastal places highlights the constraints set on the production of place imposed by the immediate physical environment and the need for accounts of the social construction of place to be grounded in the topography of the material landscape (Dirlik 2001, 22). Attention to coastal places furthermore invites a reconsideration of the influence of spatial boundaries and boundary features in the landscape in the structuring of place and space. The paper traces the role of dykes as materially and symbolically powerful boundary features of the Wadden Sea coastal landscape. The role of dykes in the material and conceptual separation of nature and culture into distinct domains is explored with reference to historical studies and contemporary policy debates on coastal and nature protection at the German Wadden Sea coast. It is argued that dykes, as material spatial structures have a profound influence on the structuring of the coastal landscape. Dykes as boundary lines of spatial separation, are instrumental in the socio-cultural separation of nature and culture into natural and cultural landscapes at the Wadden Sea coast. Material and institutional path-dependencies furthermore ensure the endurance of a particular paradigm of coastal protection, founded on the concept of a continuous fixed and uninterrupted, dyke-protected coastline.

Beyond Geography Matters: Paper presented at the German Congress for Geography

Three weeks ago (October 4th), I presented a paper at the German Congress for Geography, Humboldt University Berlin. The paper, entitled Beyond Geography Matters: Negotiating Territoriality and Functionality in Theory and Practice was co-authored with Annegret Repp of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in Müncheberg and HafenCity university Hamburg.

The paper sought to critically examine the actual and potential governance capacity of European spatial planning with in light of the emergence of increasingly spatial approaches to governance within the environmental policy field. How do environmental governance actors negotiate territorial and functional spaces in practice? How can the concepts of soft spaces, spatial fit and variable geometry contribute to an analytical understanding of emerging new spaces of environmental governance? Can governance actors move beyond state-centric metageographies to engage with cross-boundary functional spaces?

The abstract is reproduced here:

The multi-level and multi-sectoral governance context of the European Union presents particular challenges of integration across spatial scales, territories and policy sectors. Indeed, a number of studies have highlighted the potential for EU operational programmes to lead to unintended and contradictory outcomes due to problems of coordination and misalignment at the levels of both policy formulation and implementation. The integration of strategic spatial and environmental objectives into sectoral policies remains a key challenge for governance in Europe, arguably requiring changes in institutional structures, governance cultures and operational paradigms at all spatial scales. At the same time it is possible to identify a renewed focus on the spatiality of governance as actors experiment with news of working with functional spaces, crossing established territorial boundaries. In this context, space has become a focus for and means towards cross-sectoral policy integration. River basin management under the EU Water Framework Directive, protected areas under the Habitats Directive and marine spatial planning each represent prominent examples of the emergence of explicitly spatial perspectives under EU environmental directives each of which have also generated critical discussion in the academic literature. Paradoxically, the integrative potential of spatial perspectives in environmental policy has begun to be recognised at the same as academic and policy debate on integrated and strategic forms of European spatial planning have lost momentum and become displaced by less ambitious concepts and discourses of territorial cohesion and territorial governance. We argue that European spatial policy in its current form fails to move beyond its claim that geography matters, to constructively contribute to the question of how sectoral policy (including environmental policy) should address the seemingly elusive spatial dimension. Indeed there has been very limited engagement with academic and policy debates on territorial cohesion and territorial governance in the environmental management literature and similarly limited attention paid to the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion. In the German context, experimental governance approaches such as sustainable land management and urban-rural energy regions nevertheless indicate the potential for integrated spatial-environmental approaches.

Specifically, the paper compares and contrasts the analytical perspectives of spatial fit and soft spaces, both of which move some of the way towards explaining the ways in which governance actors work with multiple socially constructed spatialities. With their separate origins in the environmental management and spatial planning literatures respectively these concepts have developed in isolation from each other and have not previously been brought into dialogue.

Soft Spaces in Europe: Re-negotiating governance, boundaries and borders published in Routledge Regions and Cities Series

The book: Soft Spaces in Europe: Re-negotiating governance, boundaries and borders has been published this summer. It is edited by Phil Allmendinger (Cambridge), Graham Haughton (Manchester), Jörg Knieling (Hamburg) and Frank Othengrafen (Hannover).

Soft Spaces Book Cover

Through five metropolitan  and three cross-border case studies, edited volume greatly contributes to a comparative understanding of soft spaces as an emerging element of the contemporary governance landscape in northwest Europe. The author of this blog (Cormac Walsh) was responsible for the case studies of the island of Ireland and Fehmarn Belt region (Chapters 7 & 9) and contributed to the study of the Hamburg metropolitan region (Chapter 3). Previous versions of the chapters were presented at international conferences in Tampere, Finland (Fehmarn Belt) and Dublin, (island of Ireland).

Here is the official blurb from the Routledge website:

The past thirty years have seen a proliferation of new forms of territorial governance that have come to co-exist with, and complement, formal territorial spaces of government. These governance experiments have resulted in the creation of soft spaces, new geographies with blurred boundaries that eschew existing political-territorial boundaries of elected tiers of government. The emergence of new, non-statutory or informal spaces can be found at multiple levels across Europe, in a variety of circumstances, and with diverse aims and rationales.

This book moves beyond theory to examine the practice of soft spaces. It employs an empirical approach to better understand the various practices and rationalities of soft spaces and how they manifest themselves in different planning contexts. By looking at the effects of new forms of spatial governance and the role of spatial planning in North-western Europe, this book analyses discursive changes in planning policies in selected metropolitan areas and cross-border regions. The result is an exploration of how these processes influence the emergence of soft spaces, governance arrangements and the role of statutory planning in different contexts. This book provides a deeper understanding of space and place, territorial governance and network governance.

Regional Disparities Increasing Across Europe

Analysis of the Findings of the Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion of the European Commission by Gavin Daly (National Institute of Ireland Maynooth, and Project Expert at the ESPON Coordination Unit, Luxembourg.

Ireland after NAMA

On Tuesday, the European Commission published its Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion. The report, which is released every three years and charts the progress in implementing EU Cohesion Policy and European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds, includes a wealth of evidence and data on the performance of Europe’s member states and regions over the period of the economic crisis. Its publication comes at a particularly important juncture for Ireland, which is in the process of reforming local and regional governance, and finalising its plans on how to use EU funding between 2014 and 2020.

Overall, and unsurprisingly, the key message from the report is that across Europe regional disparities are widening due to the uneven impact of the economic crisis. This is particularly evident with regard to regional unemployment rates. In 2008, five EU regions had an unemployment rate above 20%. In 2013, the number…

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