Journal article

A dispute in the making: a critical examination of displacement, climate change and the Pacific Islands

Climate change Refugees Forced migration Environmental refugees Pacific Area

The purpose of this paper is to present a forward-looking case of climate change induced displacement in the Pacific Islands as a multidimensional phenomenon with a moral dimension. Instead of seeking to provide a definitive solution to an imagined problem, the authors have identified the complexity of the situation through an exploration of the accounts of place and accountability for the consequences of displacement.


The paper explores displacement from a sociological perspective. The authors use the sociology of worth (SOW) to anchor explicit and competing moral claims in an evaluation regime that considers questions of justice and the common good. The public accounts of place in the Pacific Islands provide the empirical material for a consideration of a situated crisis. While SOW is generally adopted for current crises or disputes, this study explores the pre-immigrant story and a future case of displacement. Bauman’s (1998, 2012) perspective on globalization is used to narrate the local conditions of place in a global context as reflective of a dominant social order.


Since place is a multidimensional concept and experienced according to various states of being including physical, functional, spiritual and emotion or feeling, displacement is also felt at a multidimensional level. Thus to provide an account of a lived experience and to foster a moral accountability for climate induced displacement requires a consideration of multiple accounts and compromises that need to be considered.

Research limitations/implications

As with the majority of accounting research that is concerned with the suffering of those at a distance, we too must tackle this conundrum in a meaningful way. As members of a society that is the largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gas, how do we speak for our drowning neighbors? The paper concludes with some insights from Boltanski (1999) as a way forward.


The paper presents a forward-looking scenario of a looming crisis from a sociological perspective. It adds to the literature on alternative accounts by using stories, media, government reports and other sources to holistically build a narrative grounded in a current and imaged social order.

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