Accepted paper:

Disaster bureaucracy, "the state" and "hidden" forms of resistance


Pascale Schild (LMU Munich)

Paper short abstract:

I draw from fieldwork on lower class households' interactions with state officials in the context of reconstruction projects in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir, to examine how "the state" is imagined and contested through these encounters and "everyday forms of resistance" such as gossip and rumour.

Paper long abstract:

In the wake of any disaster the affected population is exposed to state activities providing for relief and reconstruction. These interventions entail an extension of the state's bureaucracy, most frequently, with the help of international organisations and donors' financial support. This emerging "disaster bureaucracy" increasingly confronts people with "the state". Disasters thus qualify for "ethnographies of the state" (Gupta 1995) and a study of how people encounter "the state", its policies and officials in the everyday of reconstruction and how these encounters, in turn, shape the ways in which "the state" comes to be imagined and contested. In this paper I refer to my fieldwork among lower (and lower-middle) class households in Muzaffarabad, a small city which was badly affected by the Pakistani earthquake of 2005. In analysing several case studies of interactions between beneficiaries and state officials in the context of reconstruction/development projects I examine how "the state" thereby is instantiated in people's daily lives. This process, as I demonstrate, is shaped by gossip about "the corrupt state", rumours of projects which contradict official versions, shunning visiting officials and underreporting in surveys conducted by them. I analyse these practices as "hidden forms of resistance" (Scott 1990) to the state's reconstruction "from above". Since public political activism, directed against the states failure in providing for reconstruction of the city, is mainly confined to Muzaffarabad's middle and upper classes I also attempt at explaining why it is that the political opportunity of open resistance is closed to most of the population.

panel W124
Politics of disasters (EN)