This seminar considers the interrelationship between (a) regional characterisations of fire-prone landscapes including scientific portrayals of wildfire and their associated risks and (b) resulting public sector management responses to suburbanisation and climate change. It presents a case study focused on the American West, and parts of California in particular where wildfire vulnerability around the region is growing due in part to policy framings that tend to overlook important economic drivers of social risk.

Suburban landscapes are lucrative landscapes. From land use extraction activities to private fire mitigation services, diverse groups extract profits from these areas, thus leveraging the suburban landscape as a source of prosperity and wealth. Over time, the generation of financial benefits has coincided with the production and maintenance of social vulnerabilities. Directly confronting these profit-seeking activities will require challenging the underlying socio-economic drivers that produce elevated fire activity. And yet, contemporary management and scientific discourses on fire tend to de-politicise landscapes of the American West and the social origins of fire disasters.

Media reporting on wildfires, for example, allows certain explanations of regional social-environmental change to go unchallenged. Injurious and costly wildfires are “spun” as strangely natural and inevitable. Meanwhile, a series of corollary debates contribute to a process of re-politicisation – as other contested issues come to occupy the discursive arena of disagreement. We are left tinkering around the edge of the problem, constantly putting out little fires, instead of grappling with the root cause of the major blaze itself. This study also considers the use and implications of ‘regional’ designations in planning as a way of characterising and managing diverse and risky areas.



Dr. Gregory Simon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University and has subsequently held visiting scholar positions at Stanford and UCLA. His research and teaching pursuits examine forms of social-ecological vulnerability in the context of profound economic, political and environmental change. His current National Science Foundation funded projects are located in the American West and India. Among other professional appointments Dr Simon is the Environment and Society Section Editor for the journal Geography Compass. He served as the Chair of the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and has also been a Core Advisor to the United Nations Foundation. His most recent book titled Flame and Fortune in the American West (2016) is published with the University of California Press.

Jeff Turner - Fire At Night via Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0


RMIT University, Building 1, Level 1, Room 15 (Boardroom)


20 July 2017