Using a social functionalist framework to understand responses to projected sea level rise and managed retreat policies in Australia

Kim Alexander, Anthony Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Managed retreat is one of the few policy options available for coastal communities at risk from sea level rise (SLR). A structured withdrawal from areas inundated by rising sea levels may be the only viable option for some jurisdictions and may be the most cost effective defensive approach. At present, little is known about community opinions on managed retreat options. The authors present a social functionalist framework to analyse the range of personal concerns and formulate how people may respond to predicted changes to coastal shorelines. The authors also explore peoples' propensity to accept conditional occupancy land rights (COR) with and without compensation for land that may be at risk from future sea level rise. A meta-theoretical social functionalist framework has been employed which suggests people can act as intuitively as scientists, economists, politicians, prosecutors and theologians when subject to situations of judgement and choice. Qualitative responses to an online survey were used to categorise participants according to their social functionalist decision-making styles. The study compared the decision-making style of participants sceptical of SLR risk and those unsure about the risks of SLR with those concerned about SLR. The research demonstrated that the majority of participants used more than one social functionalist framework to intuitively assess possible SLR policies and that all risk profile groups had an equal likelihood of expressing intuitive scientist concerns. The findings reinforce the need for further public debate on how to respond to sea level rise, and emphasise that different individuals frame the purpose of those debates in distinct ways; to reach the most accurate, optimal and socially acceptable or morally appropriate response, depending upon what is inherently important to them dictated by their social functionalist position.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'Using a social functionalist framework to understand responses to projected sea level rise and managed retreat policies in Australia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this