Date of Submission



This thesis is an exploration into some ways in which outsiders might provide useful forms of support to a people faced with having to adapt their cultures and communities, following the loss of a place due to climate change. This exploration is particularly directed at outsiders – people external to the impacted communities – who have the potential to provide highly useful and varied forms of support, but who are unable to develop relationships with and learn about the people and cultures they seek to support through the frequently-advocated approach of long term immersion in communities. This thesis views social responsibility for climate change in the era of the Anthropocene (a term that recognizes that accelerated climate change is at least partly human induced) as a shared and global responsibility, and therefore argues that a diverse range of outsiders should provide such support – when the affected community desires it. It recognizes the diverse range of ‘outsiders’ who can provide various forms of support to a climate vulnerable people, but who may have little framework for providing valuable and specialized knowledge, skills and services in culturally affirming ways. There is little scholarship available to guide outsiders seeking to provide useful forms of support to a climate vulnerable people, but who are unable to spend long periods of time in that community. To gain valuable insights into how such outsiders might provide useful forms of support, a multicomponent research journey was undertaken, beginning with a theoretical and conceptual enquiry into the key challenges present in providing such support. Through this, it became clear that the complexity of responding to climate change issues, and the broad range of expertise that might be required, means that impacted communities are often forced to look beyond their local resources to tackle the problems, and that people who offer support can easily reinforce negative modes of engagement with vulnerable peoples. From this enquiry emerged an understanding of critical interdisciplinary approaches as essential for finding a way forward. The thesis itself, therefore, applies three overarching questions — What is a meaningful identity? What capacity does such an identity have to adapt and still remain meaningful to its members? And what broad conditions are required in order for that adaptation to occur? — to a case study: Tokelau, a place often identified as at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to climate change but which, as of yet, has received little scholarly attention. Recognizing the profound importance of treating climate vulnerable peoples as valuable conversation partners, and crucial knowledge holders. The research included a multi-sited and collaborative field research project in Nukunonu (Tokelau) and Wellington (New Zealand). This field work engaged with a traditional Tokelauan cultural practice — weaving — as a communication tool and conversation anchor. Thus, through a combination of research methods, including participant observation and semi-structured interviews, the field work provided valuable insights about approaches that could provide support in a constructive and culturally appropriate manner. The thesis is committed to the principle that treating indigenous communities, or other marginalized groups, as equal conversation partners and crucial knowledge holders should be embedded across all stages of the research, not only in approaches to field work. This shaped the selection of theoretical tools applied to develop the final stage of analysis in this research, which were most significantly: Pacific studies, indigenous studies, cosmopolitanism, feminism, human geography, transnationalism and migration studies. In addition to a conceptual framework that examines a range of possible theories for establishing genuinely reciprocal and meaningful relationships, the thesis understands embracing research subjectivity as a site of possibility, because self-awareness of one’s own position is a key step in enabling people to use their skill sets, experiences, knowledge bases, and resources to the best of their abilities and in respectful and reciprocal ways. The overall conclusion of the thesis is that a self-reflexive critical interdisciplinary approach that brings marginalized voices into conversation with diverse bodies of literature in equal and mutually enriching ways has the potential to equip outsiders to support communities. In applying such an approach, the thesis demonstrates the value of reconsidering basic assumptions – such as who should even be considered a climate vulnerable person – and also makes visible alternative possibilities for proceeding in meaningful ways, through engaging with, amongst other things, the concepts of home and place.


Institute for Social Justice

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


288 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts