Coastal residents' affective engagement with the natural and constructed environment.

Published online
17 Apr 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Buitendijk, T. & Morris-Webb, E. S. & Hadj-Hammou, J. & Jenkins, S. R. & Crowe, T. P.
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Publication language
Irish Republic


Coastal communities and their landscapes are subject to constant change, and today face new challenges as a result of climate change and the sustainable energy transition. To ensure the resilience of coastal communities to ongoing changes in the natural and constructed environment, it is imperative that planners and other decision-makers understand the importance of local places to residents. We used an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods approach to study relationships between coastal residents and places in south Co. Wicklow, Ireland, introducing the concept of 'affective engagement'. Grounded in new materialist theory (notably actor-network theory), this term connects the meaning derived by residents from their relationships with coastal places ('affect') to the extent of their material interactions ('engagement'). 'Affect' was determined from thematic analysis of interviews and open questionnaire responses, as well as place attachment scales included in the questionnaire. Measures describing the strength of the relationship between residents and coastal places were used as a proxy for 'engagement'. To understand how experienced meaning and material interaction interlink, principal component analysis (PCA) was used to join and visually explore the different measures of 'affect' and 'engagement'. Potentially mediating sociodemographic variables were investigated using a permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA). The majority of self-selected study participants displayed strong place attachment to their most frequently visited places. We found that affective engagement does not vary with age, gender or type of place. Participants favoured natural and constructed places in equal measure. This implies that constructed places can be of high value due to their different functions for different individuals, and that landscape transformations may impact on coastal residents if they cause a change in functionality. We found two domains comprising affective engagement that are not measurable by quantitative or qualitative data alone. The first of these domains is driven by attachments to places, and the other by meanings relating to either personal or social fulfilment afforded by a place. Our findings may help planners better understand the meanings behind local support for (or resistance against) landscape transformations, and how residents' affective engagement might be impacted by proposed interventions.

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