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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

11 - The mounting risk of drought in a humid landscape: structure and agency in suburbanizing Massachusetts

from Part V



This chapter explores the vulnerability of two areas, located in central and eastern Massachusetts (Figures 11.1 and 11.4), to the effects of drought. Consistent with the dominant trend in the climate change and global environmental change literatures, we define vulnerability in terms of three principal dimensions: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (Turner et al.,2003; Parry et al. 2007). This chapter explores the exposure and sensitivity of the region by referencing the local climate, social and biophysical landscapes, and human drivers of landscape change. Adaptive capacity is discussed in terms of the factors associated with, on the one hand, groups of people and elements of the social power structure (e.g., government), and, on the other hand, individual people and small groups of individuals. These two sets of factors are termed, respectively, structure and agency. Understanding structure and agency is important for understanding the vulnerability of different places, or of a given place over a period of time.

This chapter consists of a vulnerability assessment of the Central Massachusetts study site, completed in 2004, and of the Eastern Massachusetts study site, completed in 2005. The later research builds on the earlier research. Each case study starts with a description of local changes in land- and water-use patterns, and ends with a description of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (i.e., vulnerability), with a special focus on the relative roles of structure and agency.

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