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Disaster recovery and violence in neoliberal times: community and spatial fragmentation in L’Aquila

Gianmaria Valent (Independent Researcher, Italy)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 3 April 2019

Issue publication date: 31 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the disruption and reconfiguration of the territorial organisation of the central Italian town of L’Aquila resulting from actions taken by the special commissioner, a plenipotentiary official appointed by the central government, during the ten-month emergency period following the 2009 earthquake. The study attempts to determine how during the commissioner’s short tenure the territory of L’Aquila was restructured for many years to come.


The paper discusses two major issues: first, the short-term reconfiguration of the territorial organisation through mixed operative centres (Centri Operativi Misti, henceforth COMs); and, second, the long-term fragmentation of the physical and social fabric of the town through the resettlement of thousands of families in 19 semi-permanent housing developments located in outlying, rural areas of the municipality. The methods adopted were both qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative methods involved in-depth examination of official documents and interviews with key witnesses such as local administrators, citizens and activists. Quantitative methods included the GIS analysis of spatial and census data to assess changes in population after the earthquake.


The most significant finding of this study concerns the COMs and their misuse as a tool of centralised, authoritarian governance. Analysis of the territory’s reorganisation revealed that the model of emergency management followed in L’Aquila, far from taking into account unique features of the local population and territory, was hetero-centred and consistent with neoliberal thought. Understanding violence to be an unfolding process, the author argues that such a model of management can be seen as an application of state violence.


This paper adds a new case study to the discussion of the role of the state and the application of neoliberal policies in disaster recovery. The main originality of the paper lies in its focus on COMs and their peculiar use as a tool for implementing an authoritarian model of disaster management.



Valent, G. (2019), "Disaster recovery and violence in neoliberal times: community and spatial fragmentation in L’Aquila", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 446-459.



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