Human Dimensions Research Updates 2: Kevin Duffy

Kevin Duffy representing SEANET at a recent poster session.

Many local communities in Maine have begun to acknowledge the diverse social and environmental changes happening around them. While some may hold onto existing social and aesthetic visions of community, others realize that novel transformation, such as aquaculture development, is necessary to sustain local livelihoods.

Human Dimensions student researcher and Department of Communication and Journalism PhD candidate, Kevin Duffy, wants to understand when and why coastal residents incorporate such transformations into their visions of community. This summer, Duffy and his faculty advisor, Dr. Laura Rickard, will start a new community-based photography project to understand the changes residents have observed and how those changes affect residents’ place-based experience. Specifically, his work will examine (1) the challenges and opportunities related to developing multi-use waterfronts, (2) the role of photography in grounding perceptions of vulnerability and risk, and (3) public preferences for future development.

In this multi-phased project, Duffy will first use photovoice – a qualitative, participatory action-based research method that engages community perceptions through resident-employed photography and facilitated group discussion. He will recruit seasonal and year-round residents living near the Damariscotta River and Bagaduce River estuaries to photograph what they identify as “sites of change.” These photographs will guide discussion at separate public meetings where participants will aid Duffy in a thematic analysis of photos focused on community resilience, including current community assets and future needs.

Duffy will then adapt the photos for a second study following Q methodology – a mixed method approach that reveals shared viewpoints through structured photo sorts and debriefing interviews. Duffy will recruit different residents from the same communities and ask them to rank 40 photos (taken by their fellow community members) relative to each other on a grid based on how important they are for understanding their sense of place. Results may suggest why certain visions of community are resilient to change while others are not.

Once Duffy has analyzed community responses from both the photovoice and Q method studies, he will host a public photo exhibition in each estuary for participating residents and other stakeholders. Exhibition attendees will be asked to share their visions of development and engage with others’ visions. Duffy hopes the project will empower community residents not only to engage more with the research process, but also to critically reflect on their everyday (and possibly changing) experience of community.

This research complements other SEANET projects, particularly within the Human Dimensions theme, as it reveals how social and environmental change, particularly related to viewsheds, can influence public perception and support for aquaculture siting and development.