ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P35)
Cultures and risk: understanding institutional and people's behaviour and practices in relation to climate risks
Location Senate House - Athlone Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 4

Convenors

  • Terry Cannon (Institute of Development Studies) email
  • Fred Krueger (University of Erlangen-Nuernberg) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Perceptions of hazards involve cultural interpretations of risk that are well understood in anthropology, but often ignored in disaster risk reduction. It is also essential to understand the cultures of organizations that deal with disasters, and how these are formed and clash with those of people.

Long Abstract

Climate change highlights the problems of beliefs and behaviours in relation to risks, including those of climate-related natural hazards. In mainstream disaster risk reduction (DRR) the significance of culture is largely ignored as a part of the process for dealing with risks. For example, although religious beliefs inform the attitudes of most people to disasters, it is almost completely absent as a factor in the design of DRR and climate adaptation organization's activities, or in how those organizations interact with local people. There is already considerable understanding of this in anthropology, and this panel aims to assess why this knowledge is ignored, and how it can be better incorporated with DRR. In part this highlights the need for another form of understanding: to analyse the culture of the DRR organizations themselves. How is it that they, in the face of enormous evidence, can neglect the significance of people's culture and its effects on their work? The panel promotes transdisciplinary understanding of organizations' culture: unless their dealings with risks changes to improve the 'fit' with people's culture, then disaster preparedness in relation to climate change will be ineffective. The panel invites contributions that examine one or more of the following:

i) people's practices in relation to climate risks, ii) organizational culture in disaster and climate risk reduction, and iii) the way that people's and organizational cultures do or do not fit with each other, and the implications for successful climate change adaptation and DRR.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Cultures and risk: framing the issues for climate change and disaster reduction

Author: Terry Cannon (Institute of Development Studies)  email

Short Abstract

Most interventions by organizations intended to support climate change adaptation ignore people's culture and a refusal to acknowledge their own 'institutional culture'. This paper explains why this leads to significant problems for support to people in the face of climate change and related extreme events.

Long Abstract

Organizations that seek to support adaptation to climate change, and/or are engaged in disaster risk reduction, almost entirely ignore two crucial aspects of people's behaviour. First, they do not give enough significance to the fact that many people live in hazardous places because those same places provide their production assets and livelihoods. Second, they do not acknowledge that most people interpret risks through cultural (including religious) understandings that enable them to live with danger by being fatalistic or interpreting disasters as the 'will of god/s'.

This presentation outlines the character of these problems and explains why it is also essential to understand the culture of the organizations that are themselves failing to be 'rational' by assuming that people's behaviour in the face of risk (including climate change) is structured by the same rationality that they assume. It argues for a deeper understanding of the cultures of people in the face of risk, and a change to the institutional behaviours that insist that people fit into the structures of organizations.

Rumours of Change

Author: Lucie Hazelgrove-Planel (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Lack of communication and the difficulty local communities have in accessing information can be a dangerous combination in times of emergency. This paper draws from ethnographic research in Vanuatu and discusses rumours following Cyclone Pam. It calls for an increase in communication.

Long Abstract

Four years of disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs have recently concluded on Futuna, a small island in Southern Vanuatu, yet there continue to be minor clashes between the NGO running the program and the local community.

Community disaster committees have been created, trainings and workshops have been held, tools and equipment have been distributed and there have been numerous evaluation workshops and questionnaires: the DRR program has been a success. Nevertheless, communication has been an issue through not enough recognition being given to local ways of being. Such issues become critical in times of emergency. Thus in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, that hit Futuna on 14th March 2015, a lack of communication and a lack of access to information meant that rumours ran rife.

During the time the country was declared in a State of Emergency, feasts and large communal meals were banned and markets were closed. On Futuna, it was rumoured that village grocery shops were also banned from ordering in produce, resulting in a shortage of rice, the main form of subsistence at that time. Rumours were also circulating to the effect that aid would be removed or stopped if there was no evidence of its use.

There will always be inequality in the power dynamic between aid givers and local communities, but greater communication can help ease this and turn local communities into more equal parties, less dependent and better informed.

The 'relative' invisibility of local knowledge and religious beliefs in 'natural' disaster and climate policies? Some issues from a pastoral sahelian community.

Author: Chloé Gardin (EHESS Paris)  email

Short Abstract

This contribution examines the complexity of the ‘natural’ hazard cultural conception in a sahelian mobile pastoral community to explain the limits and the political issues of the environmental policies particularly focused on the management of droughts.

Long Abstract

Although the growing contribution and influence of social sciences in the 'natural' disasters policies have been recognized (S. Revet, 2011), it is clear that we are actually confronted to a lack of consideration and integration of 'local knowledge', especially in terms of religious beliefs and nature designs that are involved in cultural conceptions of risks and by extension in the management of 'natural' disasters. To consider the development and political implications of this issue, we propose to explore the case of a Sahelian mobile pastoralist community based on a ethnographic research in Senegal. The focus on the cultural perception of the drought(s) phenomenon invite us to underline the complexity of the local risk and vulnerability conceptions that do not involved a clear and systematic distinction between natural and cultural hazards. This result brings up to analyze the major constraints and limits in 'natural' disaster and climate policies, which are based in this region on an historical naturalist ontology (P. Descola, 2005). Consequently we will paid attention to the progressive recognition in anthropology that traditional ecological knowledge imply complex world views (F. Berkes, 1999), or more recently, to the necessity to considerate the religious object as a central part of the 'natural' hazard and disaster studies (J-C. Gaillard & P. Texier, 2010; B. Wisner, 2010; J. Schlehe, 2010). This theoretical framework will enable us to interrogate the political issues and effects of the dominance of expert knowledge confronted to the 'relative' invisibility of local islamic practices and discourses.

Cultures of Risk and Security: Farmers, Insurance Innovation and Equity

Authors: Jon Hellin (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center)  email
Eleanor Fisher (University of Reading)  email
Helen Greatrex (Columbia University)  email

Short Abstract

Index insurance, which in the event of crop loses pays out on the basis of a predetermined index without relying on traditional claim assessment, helps farmers manage risk. However, power relations, social dynamics and risk cultures determine those farmers likely to benefit from this insurance.

Long Abstract

In the developing world small-holder farmers face multiple risks that undermine their livelihood security. Vulnerability to the long-established hazards that threaten farming livelihoods is compounded by climate-related change and variability. This raises the need for new mechanisms to help farmers manage risk and improve security. Entering the picture is an insurance innovation known as 'index insurance', which in the event of loss of assets and investments pays out benefits on the basis of a predetermined index (e.g. rainfall level or area yield) without relying on the traditional and costly services of insurance claim assessors. Companies offering index insurance argue that it can both protect against climate risk and act as a mechanism to increase productivity, thus improving farmer livelihoods and reducing poverty. Many questions could be asked about the interface between organizational rationales within the insurance industry and farmers' practices, knowledge and attitudes to risk. Here we focus on one aspect, namely issues of equity - in terms of who is best able to take up opportunities for index insurance and how existing power relations, social dynamics and local risk cultures are played out within the encounter between the insurance industry and the everyday lives of small-holder farmers. We argue that for index insurance to have a realistic prospect of improving farming livelihoods, the insurance industry needs to pay more attention to the dynamic interaction between farmers' understandings of risk, the power relations that shape access to resources, and how socio-economic differences shape the distribution of development benefits.

Anticipatory practices for new socio-climatic issues: a case study in the NorthWestern Italian Alps

Author: Marcela Olmedo (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Environmental issues coupled with socio-economic crisis have pushed local governments to invest in traditional Anticipatory practices like community work “Corvée”, traditional the opening and cleaning of water channels, as a resource for tackling new socio-environmental issues.

Long Abstract

Environmental issues coupled with socio-economic crisis have pushed local governments to invest in traditional Anticipatory practices like community work "Corvée", traditional the opening and cleaning of water channels, as a resource for tackling new socio-environmental issues. In analysing communal water management within a progressive social change, ethnographic cases such as Saint-Marcel, in Italy, bring out the role of ancient community participation as a new response to new environmental problems. Anticipation is becoming increasingly important to Natural Risk Management debates. Research into Anticipation in this field is, however, still relatively fragmented and the concept of Corvée is rarely carefully examined by those concerned with both sustainability and natural risk management in the Western Alps. This paper explores the conditions that have favoured continuity and recent reintroduction of the ancient tradition of Corvèe in Aosta Valley and the ways this traditional practise emerged in the light of new socio-environmental change. Using Aosta Valley, Italy, as a case study the chapter analyses the environmental constraints; the structure, characteristic and role of communities and local institutions in Alpine water resource management within this transition. In addition, themes like motivations of the participants of Corvèe, community bonding and belonging feelings have been explored in the context of resilience e governance and the new social-environmental challenges that these factors forges to continuity. The paper also discusses how enhancing any form of knowledge, network and sense of community, at a community level improves the work towards Natural Risk Culture.

Understanding practices of risk making and management - A "riskscape" approach for analysing social & spatial practices related to climate risks in Chiapas, Mexico

Author: Christiane Stephan (University of Bonn)  email

Short Abstract

Understanding the construction of climate risks and practices of risk management is necessary for appropriate DRR. This paper analyses practices of risk management and their socio-spatial implications highlighting theoretical approaches from human geography and social practice theory.

Long Abstract

Flood events are on the rise in media coverage, insurance profiles as well as in social & natural sciences. There is hardly a populated world region, where floods would not be part of people´s lives, whether as disruptive events, as "normal" processes or as new threats in a climate change future. Flood risk however is a discourse made use of to pursue various and sometimes contradicting goals.

Looking at the case of rural Mexican settlements along the River Usumacinta, different risks constructed and negotiated by various actors can be identified. In the global political context of climate change and the specific political context of the state of Chiapas, the analysis of flood risk, a term that would seem clearly and objectively measurable, becomes a process revealing complex patterns of practices and power asymmetries.

This paper argues for a critical analysis of "climate risks" and of the design of global strategies for Disaster Risk Reduction. Applying the concept of "riskscapes" (Mueller-Mahn 2013) and developing it further in the light of a "new societist social ontology" presented by Theodore Schatzki (2002, 2003), this paper wants to contribute to a deeper understanding of risk related practices. Results of ethnographic research carried out by the author in Mexico in 2014 and 2015 give first hand insight into complex "riskscapes" in the making. Understanding and conceptualising the socio-spatial implications of risks may contribute to a development of holistic strategies for disaster risk reduction in the future.

Local agency and creative resistance to official emergency flood response advice in Contemporary Scotland

Author: Irena Leisbet Ceridwen Connon (University of Dundee)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents an ethnographic examination of how local perceptions of and responses to flood risk in contemporary Scotland are both shaped by and expressed as resistance to official emergency flood response advice, as part of broader processes of transformative social change.

Long Abstract

Local perceptions of and responses flood risk in contemporary Scotland can be seen to be shaped by and expressed as a resistance to official emergency flood response advice and strategy developments in ways that reflect broader processes of change with wider Scottish and UK socio-cultural and political contexts. Using ethnographic information obtained from field research in both urban and rural Scottish contexts and with official emergency response bodies, this paper examines how tensions between local responses and official actions as well as suspicion and controversy regarding recent initiatives to encourage local participation and to include public opinion in official risk reduction strategy developments are not only representative of local resistance to neoliberal government agendas and centralised control, but demonstrative of local agency and cultural identities that seek to creatively deploy lived experiences of weather and the language and discourse of climate change as part of initiatives for progressive socio-cultural and political change. The paper will then explore the implications of these tensions between official organisational formal response strategies and local perceptions within the broader field of Disaster Risk Reduction, with a particular focus on how official organisational responses that primarily focus on safeguarding human welfare are often perceived to lack the fluid, dynamic, temporal and contextual reality of the lived experience of adapting to environmental change.

Making Sense of Cyclones in Far North Queensland, Australia

Author: Hannah Swee (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the tensions that emerge as a result of the many different ways of understanding cyclones and climate change in Far North Queensland, Australia. It will investigate the root causes of these tensions, and how these tensions affect state-led disaster risk reduction.

Long Abstract

Every year Far North Queensland, a region in the north east of Australia, experiences a cyclone season between November and April. As a result of this frequency of cyclonic activity, locally formed understandings of cyclones ranging in scope from prediction to recovery, are well established and immensely popular among residents. At the same time, however, disaster management agencies also have a significant presence in this region, and these agencies have their own ways of understanding cyclones, which at times diverge from those that are locally formed. Over the past decade, incidences of severe, maximum strength cyclones have increased, and together with results from studies that find that cyclonic activity is affected by climate change, pose further challenges to how cyclones are understood in this region.

In response to these challenges this paper will explore, firstly, the tensions that emerge as a result of the many different ways of understanding cyclones and climate change, and how this affects state-led disaster risk reduction. And secondly, it will investigate the root causes of these tensions. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Far North Queensland with both local residents and individuals working at disaster management agencies, this paper will provide a range of ethnographic insights that show how such tensions form as a result of certain key factors. Most notably, a lack of awareness of the broader purpose that locally formed understandings of cyclones hold for residents in this region.

The drought, the fire and the guardians: wildfire risk in a south-central Chile national park.

Author: Sebastian Benavides (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Climate change has been seen as the cause of a severe drought last summer in south-central Chile. Being national parks vulnerable areas regarding wildfires because of their forests, I propose an analysis of how rangers face drastic changes in weather and other wildfire risk elements in their job.

Long Abstract

During the 2015 summer, an extensive drought affected south-central Chile, increasing dramatically the risk of wildfires. When these occurred, they did with particular violence, affecting several regions and forested areas, including two national reserves and a national park. Technical blunders were identified at the level of the institutions in charge of the emergency, amidst a central government scandal and other "natural disasters" (i.e: volcanic eruption; floods in the desertic north).

Contrary to popular images regarding park rangers, summer work was not focused on wildlife research or related issues, but on the prevention of wildfires. Notions of "climate change" acted as a shadowy background when weather forecasts and the skies were insistently checked, for rain that did not arrive, openly called "the blue gold".

As wildfires in the north advanced consuming almost entirely a national reserve, different discourses and practices were adopted by local rangers in relation to the situation. Reflections on the way in which concepts such as "risk" and "danger" were used, together with interpretations of weather and various environmental elements will be discussed. With this, narratives concerning institutional "blame", perceptual attunement with the place and cognitive aspects in knowledge production concerning environmental dangers will be also considered.

I propose that danger and risk are the main driving forces in the way in which conservation is thought and implemented by the government. Acting as a general mindset, notions of impending disasters mould policies and practical engagements between actors and also relations with the non-human in the environment.

Risk Perception: Local Priorities and Realities influencing Responses to Climate Change in Coastal Bangladesh

Author: Joanne Jordan (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how perceptions of climate risk and associated adaptation strategies are influenced by vulnerability. It emphasises the importance of understanding risk in the context of local priorities and realities, specifically how perceptions, beliefs, and values influence behaviour.

Long Abstract

Recently, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of understanding perceptions of climate change risk for developing effective adaptation strategies to climate change. This paper explores this proposition, by examining how perceptions of climate change risk and associated adaptation strategies are framed in the context of vulnerability, through case-study research in coastal Bangladesh. Specifically, it emphasises the importance of understanding 'problems' and risks in the context of local priorities and realities, in particular how people's perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and values influence their choices and behaviour towards climate change risk.

The Fijian Vanua and Climate Change: Strengthening Institutional Approaches by Integrating Traditional Peoples Cultural Response to Climate Risk

Author: Michele Fulcher (Anthropologica Pty Ltd)  email

Short Abstract

The significance of culture, through the lens of the Fijian Vanua, is a key concept for improving risk management for climate change. Institutional approaches to climate change may be strengthened through greater appreciation for, and integration of, peoples’ cultural responses to climate risks.

Long Abstract

Fiji has been described by Fijian government officials in various climate fora as a 'canary in a cage'. As the climate warms, communities in Fiji are becoming economic refugees as subsistence agriculture and other economic sectors are affected by flood, draught, coastal erosion, saline intrusion, sediment discharges, cyclones that are growing in intensity, longer periods of hot weather and other events. Health concerns such as an increase in dengue fever, leptospirosis, typhoid and diarrhoea are attributed in part to water supplies and sanitation systems impacted by climate change. The greatest burden at this point is shouldered by the rural population owing to their dependence on agriculture and fishing, both commercial and subsistence. An extensive body of legislation, policies, plans and programmes supports the Government of Fiji in responding to risk and disaster preparedness. This includes extensive involvement of non-government organisations and other institutions. Concurrently, local villagers utilise their emotional attachment and loyalty to the land, and duty to protect it, as a key feature of their own disaster preparedness. This is encompassed in the term Vanua, which is an essential concept of Fijian society and culture. The Vanua has eyes to see you with and ears to hear you with, is both benevolent and malevolent, and provides a sense of and context for belonging. Based on the author's work in Fiji, this paper posits that the effectiveness of institutional approaches to climate change may be strengthened through greater appreciation for, and integration of, peoples' cultural responses to climate risks.

Culture, risk perception and climate change - what happens next?

Author: Greg Bankoff (University of Hull)  email

Short Abstract

This final part of the panel will draw together the discussions of the day and discuss what may be possible to continue the work of the participants, including publications and future meetings.

Long Abstract

This final part of the panel will draw together the discussions of the day and discuss what may be possible to continue the work of the participants, including publications and future meetings.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.