Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Setha Low

Committee Members

David Chapin

Leigh Graham

Keith Tidball

William Kornblum

Dana Taplin

Subject Categories

Nature and Society Relations | Other Psychology | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Beaches, Coastal Change, Political Ecology, Politics of Space and Place, New York City, Hurricane Sandy


This dissertation uses restoration practices of Rockaway beach post-Hurricane Sandy as a lens to investigate tensions between nature and society on urban coasts. By focusing on this New York City beach, this dissertation aims to examine the interaction between the beach, residents, city and federal agencies, and local environmental grassroots stewards in their response to coastal flooding and erosion. This is an ethnographic case study of Rockaway Beach during the two years (October 2012-October 2014) following Hurricane Sandy. This case study is based on secondary data analysis of interviews with 52 key informants, field-notes from participant observation at community and stewardship events, and archival research. This dissertation begins with a critical environmental history of Rockaway. From there, the dissertation examines the steward's practices as a counterpoint to the federal and city agency official approaches in a time of increasing awareness and concern over sea-level rise and coastal erosion. The dissertation examines the conflicts that arise in this unique urban beach over expertise, property, nature, and development. And it concludes with considerations of procedural, distributive, and interactional justice and equity for urban beaches. The dissertation makes the case that beaches should not be managed as separate from people or nearby communities and that such management must be sensitive to issues of equity and power.