To read this content please select one of the options below:

Trust, distrust and translation in a disaster

Patrick Cadwell (SALIS, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 28 August 2019

Issue publication date: 11 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to describe, explain and provide context for relationships between translation, trust and distrust using accounts of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake given by foreign residents who experienced the disaster.


This research provides a qualitative analysis of ethnographic interview data drawn from a broader study of communication in the 2011 disaster using the cases of 28 foreign residents of the disaster zone from 12 different countries of origin.


The study confirms the general importance, the linguistic challenges and the context dependency of trust in disaster-related communication at the response phase. It found that translation was involved in some trust reasoning carried out by foreign residents and that translation was an ad hoc act undertaken by linguistically and culturally proficient acquaintances and friends.

Research limitations/implications

The research examines a limited range of trust phenomena and research participants: only reason-based, social trust described by documented foreign residents of the 2011 disaster zone in Japan was considered. Furthermore, generalisations from the case study data should be approached with caution.


This paper adds to the literature on trust and disaster response as opposed to trust and disaster preparedness, which has already been comprehensively studied. It responds to calls for more studies of the role of context in the understanding of trust and for greater attention to be paid in research to relationships between trust and other phenomena.



This work was supported by Dublin City University and the National Development Plan under a Daniel O’Hare PhD Scholarship. Fieldwork for this research was also part-funded by DCU’s School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies and Centre for Translation and Textual Studies. The author would also like to thank Prof. Richard L. Priem and Prof. Dr Antoinette Weibel for advice given at a conference in 2016 to put context and participant voices at the centre of his study of trust, distrust and translation.


Cadwell, P. (2020), "Trust, distrust and translation in a disaster", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 157-174.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles