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David O'Byrne

David O'Byrne


David O'Byrne

No more water, but fire next time : The conflict between environmental aims and social claims in Louisiana's post-Katrina coastal planning


  • David O Byrne

Summary, in English

There are two levels to this thesis, the examination of the particular case and the exposition of the general approach. The case the thesis deals with is Louisiana’s coastal land-loss crisis and what can and should be done about it. I examine the current approach to coastal protection and restoration in the state of Louisiana, drawing on different economic theories of sustainable development and coastal geomorphology. Though the current plan is an improvement on previous efforts, it is still lacking in some areas. Amongst other problems, it is likely to put some fishers out of work, force them to relocate, and otherwise damage coastal communities. I argue that this is due to the critical capital approach to sustainable development that it employs which is based in utilitarian economic decisionmaking. Through a careful study of the present plan and by spotting its tensions and weaknesses, I propose an alternative approach to coastal planning which focuses on the expansion of capabilities. For this I draw on the work of Amartya Sen. I argue that this would address many problems with the current plan including those faced by the fishers. But examining the political and economic context, I find it is unlikely that the State will promote such an alternative, so I instead focus on an emergent fishers’ social movement as a potential agent of change, which can put pressure on the State to change its approach. Drawing on Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and social movement theory, in the political process tradition of Charles Tilly, I then translate this analysis into advice that might assist the movement in its struggle with the State.

This thesis is also an example of a novel approach in sustainability research, which aims to make contributions at a number of levels. I propose that it provides an example of how to do interdisciplinary environmental research using the method of immanent critique; bringing together coastal geomorphology, political economy, and social movement theory. It brings together critical and problem-solving modes of research in a concrete case drawing on extended case work. I also propose a framework through which sustainability research can contribute to the practice of social movements as agent of social change towards sustainability.


  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year




Document type



Lund University


  • Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified


  • Coastal management
  • Environmental movements
  • Deltaic systems
  • Problem-solving research
  • Sustainable development
  • Mississippi River Delta




  • Lennart Olsson
  • Turaj Faran


  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-528-2
  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-527-5

Defence date

18 September 2020

Defence time


Defence place

LUCSUS, Ostrom, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund


  • Tor Arve Benjaminsen (Professor)