EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Living with disasters: hazards, continuity and change

Location M-648
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Hannah Swee (UCL) email
Zuzana Hrdlickova (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Disasters disrupt continuities and co-produce social change in multiple ways. This panel aims to explore the various ways in which the coexistence of societies and disasters shape modes of living, and collaboration of people, organisations and other actors.

Long Abstract

A large proportion of the world's population today lives with the effects of disasters, and for some, extreme events are a part of everyday life. Disasters are not only singular extreme events, but may occur on an annual basis in the same society. Whether they are natural or man-made, disasters as catastrophic events are inseparable from some form of social change, be it through adaptation, collaboration or the emergence of grassroots activism. Disasters may start off as a physically destructive event, but they occur within societies and their catastrophic effects are often a result of a combination of factors including the environment, society, politics, and economy.

This panel invites papers that explore how disasters are related to change in societies. This includes discussions about what kind of social or political environment preceded a disaster, how people cope with and establish a sense of continuity after a disaster, and what sorts of social changes are involved. Papers may reflect societies that have been affected by disaster in any time frame, from the society before the destructive event, immediately after, or a longer time after. Papers are welcome from academics as well as applied anthropologists working in the area of disaster studies.

Possible themes that could be addressed: Collaboration between the community, relief agencies, charities, or governments; community collaboration; grassroots activism; individuals as agents of change; the use of social media and the internet; disasters as part of everyday life; adaptation and coping strategies; disasters as catalysts for positive change.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


After the explosion: volcanos and their social perception on Lombok, Indonesia

Author: Volker Gottowik (Frankfurt and Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

The landscape of the Indonesian island of Lombok has been shaped by an active volcano and its explosion in historical times. This paper deals with local explanations of this disaster and its impacts on social relations on this island.

Long Abstract

One of the major disasters in the history of mankind occurred in AD 1257/58, when a huge volcano exploded on the Indonesian island of Lombok. Large amounts of ash were ejected into the stratosphere causing a solar eclipse, a fall in temperature and crop failures in Europe and the destruction of wide parts of Lombok and neighboring islands like Sumbawa and Bali. However, this disaster formed an impressive landscape consisting of Mount Rinjani (3726m) with a dark shining crater lake and a new volcano emerging from the middle of this lake. This spectacular landscape is considered to be the abode of the gods and the sacred center of Lombok by almost all ethnic and religious groups on this island.

In particular, Sasaks and Balinese, Muslims and Hindus go there for pilgrimage, and through prayers, offerings and sacrifices they contribute to the reconciliation between god, man and the environment and the prevention of further disasters. In this way communalities between Muslim-Sasaks and Hindu-Balinese were expressed, renewed and created which form the background for an equal sharing and sustainable use of this volcanic landscape. However, this collaboration is being challenged as the consequences of the disaster become increasingly manageable and socio-religious groups more oriented towards global trends. Following these trends, the social consensus about the forces behind the initial disaster is being contested as is, consequently, the sacred character of Mount Rinjani. Against this background, new perspectives for the exploitation of this area emerge which transform social relations on Lombok.

Cyclones and the construction of normality in Australia

Author: Hannah Swee (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

By exploring the way that cyclones are lived with as a regular occurrence in Australia, this paper will discuss how active constructions of normality are necessary in order to adapt to living with natural hazards and disasters.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore how cyclones are lived with as an annual risk in Far North Queensland, Australia. This region is located in the Australian tropics and has an annual cyclone season between November and April. Natural hazards and disasters are often thought of as being catastrophic one-off events, however, the frequency of cyclones occurring in this region means that they are often perceived as regular events rather than an event that is extraordinary. Normality in this context, although itself a constantly changing concept, needs to be actively constructed and understood. This constructed sense of normality is part of the ongoing process of adaptation which enables people to continue living in this environmentally risky place and influences their choice to live with this risk. Cyclones are socially understood and experienced phenomena, they are interacted with and experienced within a society, and they are interpreted by people in a variety of ways.

By using this context of cyclones and building upon other studies that view disasters as socially understood and experienced phenomena, this paper seeks to question current definitions of disasters and to further explore current anthropological theories of disasters. Based on long-term ethnographic research, it argues that disasters need to also be studied as events which continue to influence a society far beyond the initial catastrophe.

Rebuilding with music: musicians and their importance for the survival of post-Katrina New Orleans

Author: Geerke Bakker  email

Short Abstract

This paper is about the influence of Katrina on the music community of New Orleans. It explores the way Katrina had an influence on the music community and their notion of their importance for New Orleans and its rebuilding.

Long Abstract

In this paper it will become clear that situations change when one looks at the impact of a disaster after a longer period of time. Questions arise about the vulnerability of people and communities. Did this vulnerability change in the course of the years after the disaster? This change in vulnerability involves, in this subject, the social theory about the 'reinvention of the self'.

Knowing that music plays a big role within the culture of New Orleans, one can state that the musicians and music are important for New Orleans' rebuilding and survival. The musicians are the ones that create a (sense of) place, something which is reflected in the fights and struggles that they go through to help the culture of New Orleans survive. The musicians experience, what may be termed as, a (cultural) revaluation. It is stated in this paper that the creation of a (sense of) place and the change in vulnerability of the musicians are part of a process that can be described as a 'reinvention of the self'.

Katrina put New Orleans at risk of losing everything, something which made the city realize the value of their main cultural characteristic, the music. This paper will show that a disaster does not only mean devastation, but that there are also positive sides and opportunities created, an acknowledgement of the fact that for some people it can mean a new start that can have a positive effect on themselves and their community.

Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and the challenge to white, male hegemony

Author: Seumas Bates (University of Glasgow)  email

Short Abstract

In southern Louisiana, the potential for and memory of hurricanes and oil spills is woven into the cultural landscape. This experience of disaster exists within on-going processes of cultural precariousness, whereby established, normative hierarchies of race and gender are increasingly threatened.

Long Abstract

This paper examines how local 'traditional' gender and racial hierarchies have been impacted by the lived experience of major disasters, but also how these disaster-processes are experienced within pre-existing trajectories of social change.

It reflects upon a period of ten months ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Plaquemines Parish, southern Louisiana, during 2011. This community has suffered two major disasters in recent history. The first; Hurricane Katrina, made landfall in the town of Buras in 2005, and destroyed all but a handful of the man-made structures in the community. The second; the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, caused massive ecological damage to the surrounding marshland and bayous in 2010. The combination of these two disasters has caused significant impact to local community life.

However, this disaster-prone region experiences both hurricanes and oil spills as somewhat normalised, constituent parts of the local cultural landscape, either as memories of past disasters or within the preparation for those forthcoming. Katrina and the oil spill were unusual primarily in terms of their vast scale.

These disasters were therefore experienced within the wider, on-going cultural processes of this disaster-rich landscape. This paper shall focus on how certain local gender and racial hierarchies, based largely around a particular ideal of normative 1950s American values, have been challenged both by the impact of these disasters but also by wider changes to American social norms. It shall foreground therefore how the impact of these major disasters has been experienced within pre-existing, on-going processes of social change.

Disaster publics: perceptions of citizenship in the wake of floods in Central Europe

Author: Kristoffer Albris (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the floods in Central Europe in June 2013 have shaped public perceptions of citizenship, by focusing on publics as emergent collectives. The paper also discusses the idea of social change in the wake of disasters, and the ethnographic challenges that follow from this.

Long Abstract

The massive river floods in June 2013 wreaked havoc in many parts of Central Europe. The damages are estimated at EUR 17 billion, making the floods one of the costliest disaster events in European history. This paper explores how events such as this, shape public perceptions of what it means to be a citizen during and following emergency situations, in towns along the Elbe river in Germany. By turning attention to perceptions of citizenship, the challenge is to understand how one can study floods as political events, that in turn create epiphenomena such as insurance controversies and public protests against dikes. Theoretically, I draw on John Dewey's notion of a public. In Dewey's understanding, a public is not simply a collection of individuals already assembled as a stable category. Rather, publics emerge in relation to particular collective matters of concern, which in turn are triggered by specific events or processes. At the ethnographic level, one of the challenges this paper deals with is to ask what we mean by social and political change in the wake of disasters, and more importantly, how we are able to investigate this? I argue that the flood events in Central Europe is a site of inquiry to investigate the various notions tied to the political idea of citizenship, such as rights, obligations, insurance and responsibilities, but that there are methodological challenges of temporality and scale that need to be addressed.

Change, continuity and the making of a polity of disaster remembering in the wake of la Inundación in Santa Fe City (Argentina)

Author: Susann Baez Ullberg (Swedish National Defense University)  email

Short Abstract

The governmental flaw in mitigating the 2003 flood in Santa Fe City (Argentina) made different groups of disaster victims mobilise protest in collaboration. Together they constituted a polity of disaster remembering, producing both change and continuity in terms of resilience and vulnerability.

Long Abstract

In April 2003 occurred in Santa Fe in the Northeast of Argentina what came to be called "la Inundación," the worst flood ever in the history of the city. 23 people died during the emergency and 130.000 residents of the city's half a million had to evacuate. The social and material effects of the disaster were enormous, and reconstruction took months and years. There was a striking lack of preparedness among the governmental institutions and the population alike, despite a long history of recurrent flooding of the city. In contrast to prior disastrous floods, la inundación was rather quickly politicised through the memory work and street protests that disaster victims engaged in. This paper describes ethnographically how disaster memory was produced in collaboration between different groups of disaster victims and others, constituting what I call a polity of remembering. This memory work and its social and political effects seems to indicate a transformation in how flooding is conceptualized in Santa Fe, hence reducing risk and enhancing resilience. Yet the translocal and transtemporal fieldwork carried out for the purposes of this study also reveals that apparent change has been relative and not "all inclusive" in this heterogeneous and socially unequal urban community.

Risk perceptions and natural hazard management in the Brahmaputra floodplain (Assam, north-east India)

Author: Emilie Cremin (CNRS)  email

Short Abstract

Our research aims to understand the complex ways in which different stakeholders (farmers, NGOs, and Governments) interact with and manage the effects of hydrogeomorphological dynamics in the Brahmaputra flood plain (Assam north-east India).

Long Abstract

In the state of Assam in Northeast India, the annual floods of the Brahmaputra River punctuate the lives of the floodplain's inhabitants. The Mising people, classified as a "Scheduled Tribe", have been dwelling in the Brahmaputra floodplain for centuries. They must cope with the unpredictability of the river, since they depend directly on the natural resources provided by the environment for their livelihood.

Our research aims to understand the complex ways in which different stakeholders (farmers, NGOs, and Governments) interact with and manage the effects of hydrogeomorphological dynamics. That's why, we analyse how the Mising Tribe, the NGOs and the State perceive, respond and adapt to contemporary changes in the environment by comparing practices used to reduce flooding and mitigate the effects of erosion.

The main results are presented as a typology of stakeholders' perceptions of natural hazards that includes the risk and resource management practices of different groups.

We question the relevance of responses promoted by the government and NGOs as a means to assist the most vulnerable populations of the flood plain. It remains necessary to take into account local realities when implementing action plans for disaster management in order to shape effective solutions to improve rural livelihoods.

From apocalypse to disruption: the learning curve of cyclone management in Odisha

Author: Zuzana Hrdlickova (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

The 1999 Orissa Supercyclone killed 10.000 people and 14 years later, the similarly ferocious cyclone Phailin had ‘just’ claimed 40 human lives in the same state. This paper will examine the dynamics of collaborative processes that transformed cyclones from apocalypse to ‘mere’ disruption.

Long Abstract

The Indian state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa) has experienced a number of destructive storms and cyclones, which have claimed thousands of human lives, destroyed livestock, properties and infrastructure. Being part and parcel of a typical rainy season, deadly cyclones have been seen as one component of the common life cycle in the area for centuries. However, perceptions of how people can live with disasters have shifted globally and also locally, moving towards disaster preparedness and resilience. This paradigm shift is the most apparent when one compares the 1999 Orissa Supercyclone, which killed nearly 10 000 people and Cyclone Phailin that affected Odisha (and the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh) with similar ferocity only 14 years later in October 2013 but claimed 'only' around 40 lives. Clearly, the ways in which disasters (and cyclones especially) are being managed by authorities and organizations in the last 14 years. In my paper, I will draw on the findings of our 'Organizing Disaster' research and recount my observations from the fact finding mission with the expert team at the Indian National Institute for Disaster Management in the aftermath of cyclone Phailin in October 2013. I will examine the processes of institutional learning and collaboration that pertain to cyclone management and pose questions about the borders between the state, non-government actors and the population. This should also shed light on positive developments in disaster management practices including shelter construction and evacuation.

Relational supervision and the traumatic ethnographical experience

Author: Salma Siddique (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the application of therapeutic supervision for people witnessing traumatic and distressing events in collaboration with other disciplines and organizations; and its application for anthropological researchers returning from their fieldwork .

Long Abstract

DisastersIn this paper I will focus on the themes of power, participation, and potency from the perspective of applied anthropology using my psychotherapeutic experience of data collection and report writing in agencies and organisations as a therapeutic inquiry and as a collaborative process with participants. I will discuss examples of challenges that I encountered in my own fieldwork from my doctoral research in anthropology, consultancy and supervision as a psychotherapist working with regional and international charities on issues relating to vulnerability, violence, abuse and neglect.

I explore the notion of vicarious trauma experienced by anthropologists during their fieldwork data-collecting phase and in their writing up. When gathering data from participants the relational ethics issues can be focused on the anthropologist's own professional identity or lived experience. This can have the potential to communicate what is taking place between what is being evoked and what is being understood consciously or unconsciously. During many encounters we are left wondering 'who am I to you?' and 'what are we doing?' This awareness can develop with the applied anthropologist and can be re-encountered reflexively when writing up their experience. We research usually that which is a part of our own story which resonates with the wounded storyteller (Frank, 1995). I will explore how we can make and remake our research fieldwork experiences when we engage in the act of writing about witnessing trauma and how this therapeutic process in collaboration with psychotherapeutic methodology can assist dealing with trauma.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.