Post-disaster research: inspirational early career scholars transcript for the disasters: deconstructed livestream on 15 September 2021

Kaira Zoe Alburo-Cañete (International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands)
Nnenia Campbell (Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA)
Shefali Juneja Lakhina (Wonder Labs, San Jose, California, USA)
Loïc Le Dé (Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
María N. Rodríguez Alarcón (El Colegio de Michoacán, La Piedad, Mexico)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 26 December 2022

Issue publication date: 16 October 2023




This conversation presents the reflections from four inspirational early career disaster scholars on the opportunities and challenges associated with post-disaster research and disaster studies in general.


This paper is based on the conversations that took place on Disasters: Deconstructed Podcast livestream on the 15th September 2021.


The prominent themes in this conversation include representation, power imbalances and research extractivism and reciprocity.


The conversation contributes to the ongoing discussions around how research is conducted immediately following disasters.



Alburo-Cañete, K.Z., Campbell, N., Lakhina, S.J., Le Dé, L. and Rodríguez Alarcón, M.N. (2023), "Post-disaster research: inspirational early career scholars transcript for the disasters: deconstructed livestream on 15 September 2021", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 400-417.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

Ksenia Chmutina (co-host; from herein Ksenia): Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. This is the second part [1] of the special series of live streams that are related to “Power, Prestige, and Forgotten Values: A Disasters Studies Manifesto” [2]. In the first part, we spoke to Sarah Beaven, Lori Peek, Mihir Bhatt, Terry Gibson, and Djillali Benouar, and we were discussing the opportunities and challenges in post-disaster research. Today we have some more amazing guests, all of whom are early career researchers who really inspire us – and also, if I might add, all women! So, joining us today are Shefali Lakhina, Kaira Zoe Cañete, María Rodriguez Alarcón, and Nnenia Campbell from whom you will hear shortly [3].

Jason von Meding (co-host; from herein Jason): So great to be able to do a series of livestreams, promoting a lot of the things that we've been having conversations about a lot, of kind of unpacking these issues. And hopefully, many of you watching this will be familiar with the “Power, Prestige and Forgotten Values Manifesto”. This came about because many of us who are working in disaster scholarship felt that the way we do research needs to be challenged – and that, unfortunately, most of the work being done in the Global South is granted in an uneven distribution of power. And so, there's been a lot of work behind the scenes, bringing us to the point of publishing this Manifesto and all of the other work that is ongoing, springing out of that.

But there are some amazing practices that researchers are undertaking. And in the first part of the series a few months ago (and as Ksenia said, please catch up on the recording of that on YouTube), Lori, Sarah, Djillali, Mihir, and Terry all focused on the importance of ethics, cooperation, collaboration, respect, and trust. But sometimes it's easier for us as established scholars in secure positions to talk about these things. And, we can sometimes disregard the realities of neo-liberal institutions that impact early career researchers and maybe disrupt the conversation or prevent that conversation. So, JC [Gaillard], maybe you want to say a few words to that, just to introduce the importance of talking to early career researchers.

JC Gaillard (co-host, from herein JC): Thanks, Jason, for reiterating the importance of the Manifesto. And I'm very much looking forward to this event today because one of the major sources of inspiration for the Manifesto in the first place was the increasing discomfort we were feeling and encountering when talking to early career researchers, especially Ph.D. students and postdocs, where you are not yet in the position of power in academia. And this is how I think many of us, mid-age established researchers, came to realize (or at least it was my own personal feeling!) that we messed things up in the sense that – at least I'm speaking on my own behalf here – but we haven't lived up to the expectations of our mentors. There are people who, in the 1970s pioneered, then put forward all the ideas behind the vulnerability paradigm. And I strongly believe in that I've completely failed to actually match their expectations. And this was one of the reasons why we came up with the Manifesto. We didn't want the young generation, the early career researchers who felt uncomfortable with this kind of tension we introduced in our own scholarship over the past 20 years, we didn't want them to carry on and do the same things that we've been doing since, I would say, the 1990s. And that was the whole driver behind the Manifesto. And I'm very much looking forward to listening to all of our guests today because they are the people who have inspired us and who are going to carry the field forward in the years to come. There's some energy taking the field forward and the energy comes from these individuals whom we will be listening to today. I'm very much looking forward to this.

Ksenia: Super, thank you so much for this introduction. Our first guest today is Dr. Shefali Juneja Lakhina. Shefali is co-founder of Wonder Labs [4], a social enterprise catalyzing innovations with communities on the front line of climate impacts. Since 2005, Shefali has contributed to a range of innovations in disaster policy, programs, and research. She has co-led the design and development of the UN's first Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction and led an award-winning City-to-City Sharing Initiative for the cities of Quito, Katmandu, and Makati. Shefali recently co-founded the Reimagining 2025: Living with Fire Design Challenge to center the voices of students and early career researchers in community wildfire risk reduction efforts. Shefali, we're excited and delighted to welcome you to the live stream today. Over to you.

Shefali Juneja Lakhina (from hereis Shefali): Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction. I'm going to jump right in because we have 10 min – and so much to share. So, I'm going to structure my time by quickly running through three key challenges and three corresponding opportunities that I see in disaster research right now.

The first challenge really centers around how we understand disasters in time. And so, we have already begun to unsettle the term “post-disaster research”. Are disasters to be understood as disruptive events? As historical processes? Or perhaps politicized imaginaries? I don't mean this to be a trick question. The thing is, there are no wrong answers. Earlier this week, Jason and Ksenia, you hosted a very timely discussion on this podcast, around the framing of disasters as events or processes [5], and it was fascinating to hear all these different perspectives. And I agree with your conclusion that disasters can be framed as both event and process, depending on context. But I don't think we fully resolved the broader question because framing disaster as an event or a process still speaks to dominant disciplinary and programmatic ways of seeing. Emergency managers tend to focus on the event because they are concerned with preparing for and managing disruptions. Planners tend to focus on the process because they work to reveal the root causes of disasters and influence policy to prevent disasters and mitigate disaster risk. And yes, there are increasing overlaps between the two perspectives. But for a moment, I want us to think about whose voices have been missing from this fairly technocratic discussion so far. I really hope the answer going through all your minds is, it's the voices of people, communities, who are living through disasters each year. Communities on the frontline are likely to tell us very different things about how they experience disasters in time. We know from our qualitative research, that disaster impacts can be experienced as forever unfolding, across years, decades, and even centuries. And so, it's important we also learn from vernacular and diverse of seeing, experiencing, and narrativizing disasters. One of my favorite examples of this kind of vernacular imagery is the Chitrakar scroll or living commentary provided by the Chitrakar artists of West Bengal in India (you can find it on YouTube or online). There are narratives on the Indian Ocean Tsunami, 9/11, and COVID-19, if you'd like to check these out on YouTube. It's interesting because these paintings are narrated in song format, presenting nested cycles that fold human time into divine time or big time. This format allows diverse perspectives to co-narrate the universal and yet deeply contextual experiences, including the social and political causes and impacts of disasters. And the unifying team in such cosmologies is that they don't limit themselves to depicting one-off events, but they constantly situate and contextualize and cross-reference the experiences that connect us across time, places, and identities.

Our second challenge in disaster studies has to do with unsettling conceptions of place and how we understand disaster-affected communities to be situated and constituted in particular kinds of locals. Generally, we understand these locals to be rural landscapes, in developing countries, and in the global south. Now, as we've seen with the global COVID-19 pandemic, our society's general affluence is no protection from extreme social vulnerability and spiraling disaster impacts. Affluent places are experiencing increasing levels of inequality, and relative deprivation, which are both caused by and can result in the systemic marginalization of particular demographics. Where I currently live in California, it's the very unequal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, devastating wildfires, and smoke impacts that are made worse by housing instability. So, our second challenge in disaster research is really to free ourselves of this notion that only places and communities in the developing world somehow constitute disaster-affected locals. That's simply not true anymore.

The third challenge is about expanding our notions of who does disaster research. And this relates to a long overdue and intersectional analysis of disaster researchers' identities. We need to recognize that we are a diverse set of people with complex layered identities who travel and live across countries and can variously self-identify as being local, migrant or external, depending on context. So, it's important to ask who is local to where? It's also important to ask how non-disaster researchers are preparing to conduct disaster research in the current landscape. COVID-19 has triggered cascading effects, bringing so many non-disaster researchers from adjacent fields, suddenly front and center in disaster research. So, a meaningful intersectional analysis of who does disaster research can complicate the simple binary of local and external, and ultimately, who does disaster research.

Looking into the future, I suggest disaster researchers, as well as funders of disaster research, begin to lean into three opportunities. The first is a commitment to convergence research where researchers can reach out across their silos, to act as bridges between worlds and communities. As part of our work at Wonder Labs, for example, this is something we require from teams entering our Reimagining 2025: Living with Fire Design Challenge program. We ask teams to be interdisciplinary, represent at least two distinct disciplines, and partner with at least one community partner. The community partner directly receives part of the funding from Wonder Labs so we can support deeply contextual and yet convergent conceptualizations of what constitutes disaster research and who benefits from it.

The second opportunity is in funding more longitudinal research that allows researchers and communities to form lasting bonds across one, two, five, or even 10 years of research. And this doesn't have to come after a disaster. Longitudinal research that engages with people's whole lived experience, not just post-disaster recovery and reconstruction, can enable us to commit to taking the time and care to engage with communities on an ongoing basis. So, we need a lot more of that kind of deeply engaged and longitudinal research. Equally, researchers need to learn how to hear no from communities. If grassroots organizations don't have the bandwidth to work with you take no for an answer. Leave them with something useful to remember you by and perhaps reengage at a later stage if it's still mutually possible to do so.

Finally, who are the disaster-affected populations that we're looking to serve? We all are. We all constitute disaster-affected populations. There's no community on the planet right now that is not living with some kind of ongoing disaster impact defined in the broader sense of the term. If anything, the past years have shown us that disaster researchers are increasingly from disaster-affected communities. So, we need to begin to learn more from researchers who are already steeped in their communities, working on mitigating climate impacts, acting as bridges, translators, and reimaginers of desired and possible futures. My hope is that disaster researchers can find support, care, and develop trust in relationships with co-researchers, institutions, and communities, no matter where they live and work in these precarious times. I'll stop there and look forward to hearing from others and engaging in discussion.

JC: Thank you, Shefali, thank you for these inspiring words and words of wisdom from the field. So next we have María Rodriguez who is doing research on disasters in Mexico, but María is from Venezuela originally. So, we are very much looking forward to your perspective, María. We know that all of us in this field owe so much to Latin America and the amazing ideas that have come to LA RED [6] over the past 30 years, and we are very much looking forward to listening to what the new generation of Latin American researchers can bring to this field. And I'm sure it's going to be as insightful as the previous generation was. So, María, we're very much looking forward to learning from you and from your experience in doing research in Mexico.

María N. Rodriguez Alarcón (from herein Maria): Thank you JC, Ksenia, Jason. It is a real honor to participate in this livestream. Before I begin, I am also grateful for the presence of some of my ethnographic informants, and I am going to speak in Spanish to be able to have better interaction with them. Loic [Le Dé], thanks for doing this translation [7].

Actualmente, me encuentro realizando una investigación en torno al desastre que se produjo tras un sismo de magnitud 7.1 el 19 de septiembre de 2017 en el territorio mexicano, con afectaciones en siete entidades federativas. Tras cuatro años del movimiento telúrico aún quedan muchas interrogantes con relación al proceso de recuperación de la población afectada, particularmente aquellas personas que habitaban localidades fuera de la capital del país. Esta investigación, de la mano de otros trabajos que he desarrollado previamente, me ha ayudado a dar respuesta al objetivo central de la actividad que nos convoca el día de hoy, orientada a discutir las oportunidades y desafíos que nos plantean los estudios sobre y en contextos postdesastres.

Desde hace más de medio siglo se ha venido incrementando el interés por el estudio social de los desastres, vinculado a las transformaciones que se han estado produciendo en las dinámicas socioeconómicas a nivel mundial. Sin embargo, transcurridos más de treinta años desde la adopción del Decenio Internacional para la Reducción de los Desastres Naturales, no ha habido una reducción significativa del riesgo a desastres. Las pérdidas económicas se incrementan a un promedio de entre 250.000 y 300.000 millones de dólares estadounidenses al año. Asimismo, en los países de ingresos medios y bajos se está produciendo una creciente mortalidad, que puede expresarse en unos 42 millones de años de vida humana que se pierden anualmente en contextos de desastres.

No obstante, uno de los grandes desafíos para reflexionar críticamente en torno a los desastres implica, precisamente, trascender los análisis constreñidos al número de fallecidos y a la cantidad de recursos económicos invertidos en los procesos de reconstrucción posteriores al evento coyuntural. Los estudios centrados en el costo-beneficio han demostrado sus limitaciones, pues se orientan básicamente a determinar la cantidad de dinero gastado en la reposición de edificios o infraestructuras dañados. En este sentido, es imperativo colocar de relieve la necesidad de adoptar medidas para abordar los factores subyacentes del riesgo y, por ende, las condiciones de vulnerabilidad.

Asimismo, quisiera llamar la atención acerca del carácter profundamente antropocéntrico que ha caracterizado las reflexiones de los científicos sociales en torno a las coyunturas desastrosas. En gran medida, las propuestas emanadas de estos estudios entienden las catástrofes básicamente desde dos dimensiones: los límites naturales rebasados por la expansión humana y la discusión antropocentrismo/ecocentrismo. No obstante, se ha dejado de lado la construcción de una teoría significativa que advierta la dependencia de los seres humanos hacia el medioambiente desde una perspectiva dialéctica e histórica.

Igualmente, es necesario apuntar hacia un enfoque crítico a través del cual documentar y estudiar la expoliación capitalista y sus consecuencias ecológicas concretas. Las decisiones orientadas a generar crecimiento económico conllevan procesos que tienen resultados ecológicos potencialmente desastrosos, donde además una gran parte de la población se vuelve más vulnerables debido a relaciones económicas desiguales.

Otra dimensión que me parece importante problematizar es, como cada vez más, los contextos postdesastres se han convertido en una oportunidad para la materialización de agendas políticas y económicas particulares. Allí, el neoliberalismo trabaja para el reordenamiento de las relaciones entre el gobierno y el capital privado, a partir de un tipo de corporativismo donde aquel canaliza fondos y recursos públicos hacia el sector privado a cambio de la prestación de servicios, como las gestiones de reconstrucción. Además, ello se sustenta en un marco ideológico modernista, donde los tecnócratas conciben transformaciones específicas del entorno construido; entre ellas, la homogeneización del territorio y las viviendas, e incorporación de elementos estéticos, como vías para transformar un espacio social considerado “pobre” o “tradicional”.

Es necesario advertir y analizar la articulación de actores públicos y privados, que atienden a un urbanismo proempresarial, pues las coyunturas desastrosas se convierten en oportunidades para generar dinámicas excluyentes de construcción y reconstrucción, pues algunos quedan relegados a una situación de vulnerabilidad, en tanto tienen menor poder económico y político, en general, poco poder de negociación. Desde esta lógica, además, se descartan los valores y sentires de quienes experimentan directamente el desastre, al ser considerados obstáculos para la aplicación de las “mejores prácticas racionales en la prevención y recuperación de desastres”, según la perspectiva de los desarrollistas y planificadores. De allí que, las experiencias, conocimientos y emociones de la población afectada son interpretados como trabas para el análisis costo-beneficio o para la gestión tecnocientífica del desastre; pero, a la par, los “expertos” y las élites promueven el deseo de ciertos entornos y relaciones humano-materiales tendientes a reproducir el capital.

En este sentido, otro desafío que se presenta en los estudios de contextos postdesastres es el despliegue de reflexiones críticas que permitan comprender de qué manera los efectos negativos de una catástrofe se ven profundizados debido a las inequidades expresadas en ciertos procesos de recuperación y a las brechas que existen entre el conocimiento, la toma de decisiones y la práctica orientada a atender estas problemáticas.

Los argumentos anteriores introducen una tercera dimensión dentro del proceso de recuperación postdesastre que me parece importante destacar, la denominada ayuda o asistencia humanitaria. Ésta se encuentra enraizada en marcos ideológicos emanados de la caridad y la filantropía, que expresan el acto de salvar y proteger la vida. Actualmente, el humanitarismo, además, es advertido como un movimiento y un esfuerzo compasivo para brindar asistencia y protección a las poblaciones en riesgo. No obstante, también es un negocio donde se compite por la participación en el mercado. Hemos advertido que el número de organizaciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales que se ocupan de los desastres se han incrementado en todas partes. Una especie de economía o industria de los desastres que se encuentra entre las de mayor crecimiento en el mundo.

Aun cuando el resultado de la asistencia humanitaria sea positivo, se concreta de acuerdo con los términos y relaciones de poder emanados de las instancias que prestan la “ayuda”. Además, el carácter excepcional que se presenta tras un desastre da lugar a una tensión entre compasión y orden, justificando intervenciones bajo un criterio moral de lo humanitario y desde “la simpatía” que provocan los siniestrados. Allí, las necesidades de la población afectada pasan a ser una preocupación humanitaria, mientras que la quimera de la igualdad frente a una coyuntura que afecta a todas las esferas de la sociedad se convierte en el motor de la acción colectiva.

Lo cual me lleva a referir un elemento adicional que debería transversalizar nuestras investigaciones y que lo entiendo como un desafío, pero también como una oportunidad. La recuperación postdesastre debe entenderse, no sólo desde la verticalidad de las decisiones y acciones de las diversas instancias involucradas, se debe dar mayor visibilización a los procesos que al interior de los grupos afectados surgen en respuesta a las consecuencias adversas del desastre. En muchos casos, se generan iniciativas, se evalúan las necesidades y se producen movilizaciones colectivas para enfrentar las problemáticas, sin esperar apoyos externos. Igualmente, es imperativo comprender los procesos de redefinición y reorganización de esas prácticas sociales, es decir, analizar las formas de apropiarse de las lógicas neoliberales para el propio beneficio de los grupos locales y sus comunidades frente a las coyunturas desastrosas.

Sin embargo, atender a estos aspectos no diluye la importancia de visibilizar las causas subyacentes del desastre. El desarrollo de prácticas comunitarias para sobrevivir debe reconocerse, pero sin perder de vista que éstas no resuelven las raíces de los problemas sociales que exponen a ciertas personas a sufrir daños y que, además, les plantean enormes desafíos para recuperarse tras el impacto de un desastre. Enfocarse únicamente en las capacidades comunitarias como solución para mitigar o reducir los riesgos, en realidad, no incide en las causas de fondo del problema. Allí, se desplaza del foco de atención dimensiones claves vinculadas a la vulnerabilidad, como la pobreza y la desigualdad.

Podría agregar elementos adicionales para la discusión, pero para respetar los límites del tiempo, lo dejo hasta acá. Muchas gracias [8].

Ksenia: Amazing! Thank you so much, María. Our next guest is Dr. Kaira Zoe Cañete, a feminist scholar with training in anthropology and critical development studies; she specializes in gender disasters and development. Kaira's Ph.D. research, which she did at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, is grounded in feminist epistemology, political ecology, and ethics of care and critically examined building back better – my favorite phrase! – disaster reconstruction in Tacloban city in the Philippines, following typhoon Haiyan and Yolanda, as it’s also known from the standpoint to women. Kaira served as the founding executive director of A2D project research group for alternatives to development research to practice NGO in the Philippines focusing on just risk reduction, humanitarian assistance, and inclusive, sustainable development. I am so excited to have you here today on our live stream and talk to you because I first learned about you through your paper on PhotoKwento published in Disasters (Alburo-Cañete, 2020) a couple of years ago. I loved it so much. I absolutely screwed it up and read it. So, thank you so much for writing it, and thank you for joining us today. So over to you, Kaira.

Kaira Zoe Alburo-Cañete (from herein Kaira): Thank you so much Ksenia for that generous introduction, and for having me here and giving me the opportunity to talk about my work. Although I retain affiliation with an NGO and the University of the Philippines, I'm currently based in Australia where I'm teaching international development at the University of New South Wales because I, unfortunately, could not return home the last couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as customary here in Australia, I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, where I am located today. I'm currently in the land of the Bidjigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are with us today.

So, broadly speaking, and as has been discussed in the introduction, my work over the last 10 years centers on the intersection of gender, disasters and development. I didn't start out as a disaster studies scholar, but I worked with grassroots women's organizations and NGOs, and basically my influences are in feminist theory and critical development studies. So, my Ph.D. research looked at disaster reconstruction after typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, which was the heaviest affected when typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013. And I looked at women's narratives of recovery as a way for us to understand institutional processes of reconstruction.

So, for this livestream we've been asked to reflect on our perspectives on opportunities and challenges for post-disaster research. And there are many things I could probably talk about in this reflection; for example, how can early career researchers, particularly from the Global South, like myself, contribute to conversations in disaster studies, or how we can link disaster research to broader frameworks of justice and equity, which the first two speakers have been talking about and something that I'm also working on with a number of colleagues at the moment. But for this talk I would like to focus on an issue which has figured centrally in my Ph.D. research. That is how we conduct post-disaster research. And I approached this question by drawing on my political and ethical orientations and positionality as a feminist scholar and development practitioner who has spent over 10 years working in this field, in the Philippines.

When I was conceptualizing my doctoral research, I continually asked myself how can I use the tools of de-colonial and feminist theory and methodologies to inform my research design – because basically, these are frameworks that were very influential in shaping my own perspectives. So, these concerns stem from an acknowledgment that there is a wide range of qualitative and quantitative tools that have been utilized to study disasters or post-disaster contexts. There remains little critical examination of the research methods themselves. And while I strive, as much as I can, to adhere to research practice as grounded on participatory frameworks. There were always, or there were also times when I unfortunately participated and even reproduced what I call extractive research, where participants are regarded mainly as sources of information, rather than being themselves, producers of knowledge. And these practices and my role in them have been a great source of discomfort for me.

They said that the Ph.D. is the best time to explore new ways of thinking and doing things because it gives you the gift of time to incubate and test out ideas. And I was certainly privileged to have been able to step back and think through my experiences and reflect on alternative ways to conduct post-disaster research. So, these reflections would eventually lead to the development of PhotoKwento, which Ksenia had mentioned earlier. Kwento is a Filipino term, which means story. So PhotoKwento would translate to telling stories with photographs. This is a feminist photo-based method, which I designed to co-construct narratives of disaster recovery. Along with study participants, having been immersed in development practice over the years, I observed two problems or challenges we can consider it.

One of the challenges in disaster studies particularly relating to methodology. First is the very real issue of power imbalances intrinsic in researcher, and researched relationships, particularly in contexts where these inequalities are more pronounced and prone to abuse such as disaster, contexts, or conflict. All too often, I found that the voices of marginalized groups are rarely heard in making decisions that ironically affect them the most.

Second, I also problematize the kind of instruments or mediums of inquiry that are often applied in disaster contexts. I was trying to explore what tools might be useful to capture the complexity of human experiences of a disaster beyond word-based and habitually, highly technical instruments that we commonly employ. What techniques might be able to generate more effectively narratives and stories, as well as the embodied experiences and emotions which are actually so central to disaster experiences but are routinely overlooked and certainly there hasn't been a lot of evidence that points towards the potential of photo based methods to facilitate more engaged and meaningful research relationships. So this was the starting point for working on my methodology. I do not have time to go over my methodology at length because it is a very long process. PhotoKwento involves the use of participant-generated photographs in conducting interviews and co-constructing narratives of disaster recovery. This entailed three processes, image generation, development of the tool, and the interviews themselves. And I worked with a group of women who took photographs of their everyday lives after the typhoon and collaboratively put together a photo album, which became the tool to interview other women in selected study sites. In this way, this becomes a means for women to rethread their experiences by engaging with each other's stories. And I have to say that carrying out PhotoKwento was one of the most anxiety-ridden, but also the most fulfilling part of my Ph.D. journey. Anxiety-ridden because it is always painful to divest control of the research process, especially when we are trained in a particular way as researchers to privilege our own authorial voices over the voices of our participants, it was fulfilling because in the end, the results were very rich and study participants started to see themselves as an important part of the research process.

To wrap up my short contribution, I would like to say that often disasters are viewed to represent powerful moments, where what is considered the normal order of things becomes exposed; in the words of Stephen Lukes, “disasters can lift veils” (Lukes, 2005), the period of disaster recovery in particular, when people are confronted with the need to reassess what has been lost and disrupted what needs to be reconstituted and what needs to change offers a precious opportunity to put our theories and approaches to the test. What we see when the veils are lifted, however, is, can be tricky because there is no single way of seeing or interpreting that which disaster exposes. And this is where the importance of methodology and epistemology comes in. If we are not conscious of shifting methodological and epistemological orientations, then we also ask disaster researchers, no matter how committed we are to the work that we do, we may also run the risk of reproducing structures of inequalities, which shape to a great extent people's vulnerability to disasters. I still have a lot of discomfort about how I conduct research and I try as much as I can to be reflective in my own work. And there are certainly many things that I think I could have done better or done differently, but I regard this challenge also as an opportunity to continuously find alternative ways of doing post-disaster research. So for those who are interested in the full process of PhotoKwento, it is published in disasters journal. And also, you can also get in touch with me to discuss this further. So, thank you very much for having me.

Jason: Thank you so much, Kaira. That was incredible! Our final guest tonight is Dr Nnenia Campbell. Dr. Campbell is Deputy Director of the Bill Anderson Fund [9] (BAF), and a research associate at the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her work with the BAF supports leadership and professional development training among historically underrepresented minorities, pursuing doctoral degrees in fields related to hazards and disaster research. And her projects with the Natural Hazard Center translate empirical research into tools and information products, designed for practitioners, and decision-makers such as guidance for responding to disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic and key principles for risk communication involving marginalized communities. And I've noticed that a lot of your work in the past couple of years, Nnenia, has been really at this interface of marginalized and oppressed groups and practitioners and researchers. Over to you. Thanks for being with us.

Nnenia Campbell (from herein Nnenia): Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity and have been really looking forward to this conversation. So yes, a lot of my work is on that intersection with practitioners and disaster research and also around programming. So, I'm bringing a little bit of a different lens to this work. But I think it's important for us to think about that next level, to think about the people who are ostensibly, we hope, using our research. And that's always been something that's really of interest to me. So that's the lens that I'm applying here.

So, I'll just jump right into it with some of the challenges that I see with thinking about how to do this research, especially in the post-disaster environment. One thing that comes to mind is how we produce reciprocity and our research relationships. It's something I've grappled with a lot, just how to acknowledge and compensate folks for the time they are sharing their data and their knowledge with me. And I think that this can be challenging to figure out what constitutes appropriate compensation for our participant's time and energy. And of course, that's not something a matter that should be simply up to the researcher to decide upon for those with whom we collaborate in the field; but we all operate under different constraints – and especially for those of us who are back to this theme of us being early career scholars. With regard to budgets or policies or other factors that's something I've grappled with a lot, where I am in my career and how many commands I have over my resources and projects. But I've drawn a lot of inspiration from my colleagues. I have a colleague Dr. Hans Louis-Charles who's discussed really thoughtfully in his work, pointing out some of the issues around reciprocity and research, and the need for dialogue with our local collaborators. The fact that we have to be engaged in this creativity and relationship building with them, and also noting that compensation isn't necessarily something that's around this has to be monetary, but that it can reflect the value of our findings, our data, and the things that we're producing from the time that people spend with us.

And another challenge I've grappled with, especially as someone who is more of an applied researcher, is, how do I make my research more useful and used? And already there's been a lot of discussion around the importance of publishing with our local researchers and knowledge producers and the folks we're working with within the field. But that's raised the question: what about when we're working with community groups or doing that kind of applied work, how do we co-develop products with them that are useful to them and that matter in ways that an academic publication simply doesn't? And so, I bring a little bit of that perspective to this as that's something I'm particularly sensitive to. And I do think that it's important of course, for academics to contribute to the broader discourse, to share our findings. So, I'm not saying that's not valuable, but the people that I'm working with often aren't reading academic journals, they do want access to information. It's something I've received very little training for in my academic career. And yet something I've bumped up against time and time again. And I've had enough experiences now with the people prototyping things, and having the folks that I'm working with say, what am I supposed to do with this? We need to get the importance of co-design of actually understanding what people need from the data that we're generating together. So, I've worked that more and more into my approach, but that's an area where I'm still learning.

The final challenge I want to discuss is this recent burst of interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI]. There are a lot of conversations globally, too, that this plugs into relating to human rights, and inequality, and democracy. But again, as most of my work has focused on the US, DEI construction and how it plays out is the context that I'm really thinking of here. And so I think that this also serves as an opportunity, which I'll get to in a moment. But I do want to be clear that I'm not characterizing the interest in these issues as the problem per se, but I do think it's important to be critical about how that interest manifests itself. And this focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion is now working its way into funding calls and project requirements. And I'm seeing a lot of this and I think many times that's done in ways that are still reproducing a status quo that is unequal and extractive and ethically problematic. But the language of social justice is being used – and one could say co-opted often with genuine interest and care behind it, though not always. But more commonly, I do think that the language and concepts of social justice are becoming these buzzwords for well-intentioned people who, nonetheless, may be ignorant about the social and systemic dynamics that reinforce the inequality that they're trying to address. And, that raises questions for me about what damage can be done, when organizations say that they're doing equity work in the disaster zone – but doing it uncritically, through unjust and inequitable systems. And I don't claim to be an expert on every case on how this should be done, but I recognize that we need to be cautious about the perverse incentives for superficial acknowledgment of these issues. I think that there are a lot of opportunities now to plug in “diverse populations” into projects and initiatives that with perhaps what the promise of funds, especially in the post-disaster environment, but not necessarily with the intention of actually enabling their input or expressions of agency. So that's something I've been trying to be mindful of in my own work. And particularly as I transitioned into the leadership of an organization that's focused on diversifying the disaster workforce and supporting cohorts of emerging scholars who want to be equipped to challenge the status quo and bring a more equitable approach to this work.

And in terms of opportunities, on the flip side of that, I also want to acknowledge that this explosion of interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion has opened many doors to really valuable conversations about the work we do in disaster-affected communities, about who's included in our research teams and what it means to include people? What does equity actually look like on the ground and in practice? And I've seen the needle really move on these conversations in the course of my academic and professional development. And I think it served as a useful foot in the door to question and push conversations to that next level. So I do see the DEI concept as a bridge to the momentum that we've been building with more scholars, critiquing issues like social vulnerability, exploring ethical standards, and power differentials in the field. And these are things that weren't as widely discussed – and the way that they are – when I first became involved in disaster studies. So, I think that's really exciting. And particularly in the context of this global interconnected community, that's linking folks who have concerns about issues of environmental justice, about fundamental human rights across geographies and hazards and timelines.

So, I don't want to be entirely cynical in saying that the issues of diversity, and equity, and inclusion, and fairness are to be dismissed – because I think there's a lot of value in this interest and the conversations that they opened the door to particularly. I've seen the impact that it's had on the composition of our workforce, which is the second opportunity that I see. Diversification of the disaster research workforce is something I've been focused on for a good chunk of my professional career, and I'm incredibly encouraged by the shift that I've seen, because when I first entered the field, Black people and people of color more broadly were few and far between, and that's actually one of the things that connected me to Bill Anderson before his passing. And so, for folks who are not familiar with Bill Anderson and his work, Bill was a Black sociologist who cared deeply about pushing this field to better serve oppressed people. And he felt that an important step toward making that transformation was bringing more people from marginalized backgrounds into professions related to disaster research and hazard mitigation. I didn't know Bill for very long before his untimely passing away, but when his wife, Norma Anderson, announced a few months afterward that she was picking up where Bill had left off to bring his vision of a more diverse disaster workforce to fruition, I want it to be on the ground level of that. And I understand that achieving more just outcomes and disaster research within disaster-affected communities Isn't as simple as adding people of color and stir, it is not going to make a difference to add new faces, reinforce the same policies and reproduce the same problems, but that's also not what I'm seeing. I'm so impressed by the folks who have come into this field, even after me – even though I'm still early in my career – but the students who've come in after me are so critical, and thoughtful, and creative at a much earlier stage in their career. And so that's something that I think is really exciting, and I'm really excited to see where their voices will take the field.

Finally, the third opportunity that I see, that I'm really excited about in my work, is collaborative research networks that extend beyond research and more towards that concept of convergence that we often talk about. So, there's a lot of good that can come out of research networks. For example, the Societal Social Science Extreme Event Research network [10] at the University of Colorado. Those kinds of research networks that link researchers, I think, can really push forward some important conversations about things like ethics and the training needs of our community. But one of the concepts that I've found really promising is different kinds of networks where they're less research-focused, maybe more problem-focused. For example, one of the groups that I've been sitting in with and listening to for the past few months is the Disaster Justice network [11], which is a network that was formed last year in response to the hurricanes that struck Louisiana, and that includes faith leaders, and researchers, and advocates, and practitioners, and other folks who have this expertise in disasters. And we're working towards finding, and addressing issues of inequitable access to disaster response and recovery efforts. And that initial focus on recovery – speaking to the issue that Shefali raised about disasters as a process – has evolved over time as the area has gone through several major disasters in that time. And so just watching, listening to those conversations, and being in the room for those virtually – I've been really impressed and encouraged by the ways that they've activated that network to do things like delivering tangible supports, like supplies, and home repairs but also working with folks in the policy space to start to address some of these root cause issues. So I've been thinking, taking a lot of inspiration from that and learning as a researcher, as I continue to grow, what it can look like to be plugged into a network with those kinds of diverse relationships and not focusing specifically on research, but what we do with it because ultimately that's why we get into the field. I know I'm probably right at times or maybe a little bit over it, so I'll stop there.

Jason: Wow. That's powerful stuff Nnenia! I love what you're saying about bringing diversity into the workforce is much more than just people that look different in the workforce. It's about thinking differently. It's about those critical perspectives that are coming in because of the diverse workforce. This has just been an incredible session so far, and we have a way to go. We've been challenged to talk about or to think more deeply about several prominent kinds of deep issues: about our own positionality and research, about diversity in our workforces, but also in the way that we think, the voices of people – how they're represented and how they represent themselves – power imbalances, and research extractivism and reciprocity.

Ksenia: We have some question! The first question we have is for María. Carlee is asking, what are some examples of how problematic power dynamics with organizations hinder recovery processes locally?

María: Los ejemplos más recientes que puedo comentar están relacionados con la investigación que estoy realizando actualmente. Por cierto, se está por cumplir el cuarto aniversario de la ocurrencia del sismo en México. En este caso, precisamente, se dio un proceso organizativo conocido como la Red Nacional de Damnificados. Esta es una red que se conformó por personas que estaban demandado el derecho a una vivienda digna en las diversas entidades del país afectadas por el sismo. Gracias a este proceso organizativo se ha logrado establecer enlaces con el gobierno federal para que se reconozca la corrupción que se produjo en la adjudicación de los recursos para atender este problema.

Igualmente, en la capital del país es ampliamente reconocido el proceso organizativo generado en la zona habitacional conocida como Multifamiliar Tlalpan. Este fue un caso exitoso de reconstrucción gracias al proceso organizativo de los damnificados. No obstante, como lo hice explícito en mi intervención, en el caso mexicano, el hecho de que se visibilice estos procesos organizativos no quiere decir que se hayan resuelto las causas estructurales del riesgo y la vulnerabilidad asociadas a este tipo de desastres [12].

Ksenia: Thank you. We now have a question for Nnenia about the concept of co-design with research participants, which is really quite exciting. So, are there different examples that you've seen that have been really successful or fruitful?

Nnenia: Yes, there are a couple. The first one, I'll discuss is really recent work that I've done, and it's not research so much as designing information products for practitioners, but I'll have another research project that I can discuss afterward. But one thing I'm really excited about is the guidance we've recently developed at the Natural Hazards Center on risk communication involving marginalized communities addressing issues of social vulnerability [13] . As we've built out this suite of project products over the past few years, starting with just an annotated bibliography, what do we know about risk communication, best practices, and then a guide about what this looks like in practice? How do we apply these core principles that we've synthesized from this literature and translate that into what it means on the ground to do this work? And so that started off with designing this guidebook and kind of presenting it to all these people and flood risk management with the US Army Corps of engineers and having them give me some feedback about what works and what doesn't; we wanted more examples and really getting a better understanding of how they might use this product. And so that helped to shape the guide that we created. And then in the past year, we've developed that guide into an extensive set-up booklet of worksheets; it takes step-by-step through the process. What do we mean when we're talking about social vulnerability? What does that mean for when you're doing community outreach about again, returning to those ideas of reciprocity? How are you actively listening and what are you offering to communities? You're not just telling them: “Here are some flyers on your flood risk, go hand them out” – but how do you actually develop those relationships and learn how to frame your outreach in ways that are resonating with the community's priorities and needs? So I've been really proud of that work and really interested in it. And that set of worksheets was created by me talking with folks doing this those activities in different places throughout the country. For example, I had a lot of inspiration for someone in Alaska who was doing outreach involving a lot of remote communities. And so one of the things that they found to do to get community input was hosting their meetings on the radio so that they could have people call in from remote locations who couldn't stream it. And so those are the kinds of things I was thinking about and gathering that input. And then building this product iteratively with those folks.

Another example is some work that I did, which I was ostensibly an evaluator on this project, but it was involving a group of students. It was called the Minority Surge Capacity and Disasters project, and that was done in collaboration with the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Lincoln and the University of Colorado Boulder. And that was a student training program, similar to the Bill Anderson Fund, but their research component for our students was to go to the US Virgin Islands. This was after the 2017 Hurricane season. We did a lot of time working with local researchers and listening to the community, visiting with the long-term recovery committee there, and listening to what some of the issues were local. A colleague and I after that helped with developing a grant proposal for the issues that I identified, that weren't really on our radar, but were on theirs was about food security. And so we helped them write a grant to develop this food security project that, when we came back the following summer, one of the teams of students was working; they were working on building community gardens – a demonstration garden for this broader effort that they had funded from that. So I think, not just coming into a place with our lens about what the problems are, but really listening to what the priorities are in the community and then doing the work to think about how that links back to the disaster issues that we're talking about, is really important. And I just really appreciated that process. And we're still, I'm still continuing to collaborate with folks on that. One of my colleagues from that project on different issues moving forward about long-term recovery. And so, I just really valued having my research collaborators and the practice collaborators, the folks who were not researchers, but brought that different lens and have helped us understand the issues at a level they haven't and develop new questions from that moving forward.

JC: Thank you everyone for such an insightful conversation. I think these are the kinds of discussions we need in the field: talking about epistemologies and methodologies, and relationships, and inclusion equality, all these very issues. Now, I just would like to set one offer somehow – and try to think in terms of ontology, and what we actually mean by disaster, because there may be some sort of an elephant in the room here that we all know: what the object of our research with the disaster is in the first place? This is something I would like to hear from you, in terms of not only how you define the disaster for yourself, but how you discuss and bring that up with your participants, and whether there is actually such a thing as a disaster in the first place. I'm arguing in an upcoming book (Gaillard, 2022) that the concept and the whole discourse is just maybe an invention of the West, and there's no such thing as a disaster as we usually mean it.

Shefali: JC, I agree. I think disasters are relative to the experience of a disaster and what we call a disaster in place and time. But I'm not so sure it's a Western invention. If you go back to any of the ancient scriptures from world civilizations, there's always been talk about stuff that happens, and we can call it a disaster, whether it's flooding, fires, earthquakes, and the stuff that happens after that. The kind of ruptures and dissonance experienced by a society, I think universally is understood as a disaster. But it is relative in terms of how we politicize that imagination and how it gets situated within meta narratives of the time. I gave the example of the Chitrakar scroll, which I want to go back to, because I just find it so poetic. That kind of nesting of an event which has to be located within a larger time scale, which is way beyond our lifetimes. And to be able to constantly situate ourselves in that and learn from the kinds of social, political, historical processes that are at work and then, comment on them, raise awareness around them, is I think the task that a lot of the vernacular imaginaries give themselves, and that we can also learn from. And it's always going to be political, in terms of what we call a disaster. I think that's an eternal challenge that we'll have, conceptually.

Kaira: I think Shefali is putting forward really important points. And I'd like to add, the notion of whose disaster is it and how disaster becomes assigned particular meanings. And there are certainly dominant discourses about what disaster is: it's a disruption; it's an event; and issues of capacity and vulnerability. But when we talk about lived experiences of disasters, it's also important to fold in people's everyday experiences of disaster as they also unfold through time. And this is what I really appreciated about Shefali's presentation earlier, because we tend to think of disasters as occurring in a vacuum, not just in terms of time, but also in the social processes and historicity of disasters as well. In my own fieldwork in Tacloban city was certain that Yolanda was really a very powerful event that reshaped the lives of people and even the entire city, the whole landscape of the city. But then when you go deeper, there are narratives about place-making and what it means to be living in an area that is considered unsafe. For decades that you've been living there – and suddenly, you are an “at-risk population”, and you need to be moved and uprooted from the ways of life. That, I think, is an important conversation that really needs to be put on center-stage: regarding the centrality of lifeways, which do not necessarily resonate with the very technical constructions of how risk, and resilience, and risk reduction, and recovery are being constructed in mainstream discourses.

Nnenia: I really just want to echo all of that what's been said. I think that all really resonates with me and makes me think and reflect on a lot of my experiences in the field. I just want to express my appreciation there.

JC: think you all made valid points in response to the question. And of course, when I suggest that disaster maybe an invention of the West, it's not dismissing the material reality of the occurrence of natural phenomena of people suffering underground. It's just the way the concept has been pitched and, how the concept supports color discourse, which is very much grounded in a view of the interactions between nature and society; basically it's positioning disaster at the interface and how this has supported this very dominant and, I would say, the universal hegemonic view of what the disaster is, that has been imposed everywhere.

Ksenia: Since we were talking about concepts and meanings, I actually wanted to go to María, just to turn back and pick up on a certain point that you've made in your intervention. So, María, in your intervention you've pointed out so precisely that disasters provoke “sympathy”. And of course, we all in this room understand, I think, that this is further exacerbated by the language of vulnerability, right? That's another big concept, a very Western concept. And so, through that concept, we immediately label people as weak – and that is convenient, right? Because we can hide behind “sympathy” instead of offering solidarity. So do you think it's possible to make people realize that sympathy doesn't address the root causes of disasters, but solidarity will?

María: Retomando un poco lo que comentaba JC, es un tema bastante complicado, teniendo en cuenta la hegemonía que existe en términos ideológicos, pues las propias poblaciones afectadas retoman estos discursos como una estrategia para acceder a la ayuda ofrecida. Allí, tendríamos que advertir de qué manera las personas se apropian de esas ideologías y praxis neoliberales para obtener ciertos recursos. Por otro lado, de qué forma también bajo esta lógica de ayuda humanitaria se producen intervenciones en los territorios bajo la lógica de modernizar algunos espacios, y “erradicar” la pobreza y aquello que es considero “tradicional” [14].

JC: Yeah, I know your point, María, about performing vulnerability. I think it's important because vulnerability is the resource; being vulnerable is a resource to steer the attention and bring resources in. And there's a fantastic paper on the topic by an Australian researcher, Sofia Webber, on performative vulnerability in Kiribati (Webber, 2013), which is exactly spot on. But this is exactly what you were discussing, how the discourse is used and reinterpreted to actually serve a particular purpose, which may not really reflect the local reality.

Jason: I wanted to just follow that a little bit more with the question to Nnenia. A few of you have noted (and maybe everybody got at this in different ways) that there is a kind of well-intentioned humanitarian call that occurs and maybe an impulse that occurs within people. But we like to talk about [Paolo] Freire a lot in the podcast. And he looks at, or he compares, humanitarianism to humanism and in kind of words that we understand solidarity to charity. And so, I wanted to ask you, Nnenia, how you think – that's why you were saying about working with oppressed groups – how do you think that we can promote solidarity rather than charity?

Nnenia: Yeah, that's a good one. I think that having to be more involved in the long term, first of all. I think finding a way to engage with these groups and understand where they're coming from, and having that deep connection to the underlying factors that are producing the outcomes that they're experiencing, and continuing to work with them to address those from a multi-pronged approach. And what I mean by that is not just asking for money for the food bank, for example, but also working with these networks I was talking about, to address the policy issues, highlighting the complexity of the challenges that communities face and using our voice to amplify some of those. So that we can continue to serve as those points of connection; that we're using our networks and our voices to help bring together some of those connections for people who otherwise, I think, are just engaged on a very superficial way – here's what you can give rather than here's how you can get involved kind of perspective.

Ksenia: Thank you all so much! We cannot thank you enough for all your time and insights, and it's been absolutely wonderful. You've just been so inspirational today, and you all really give me hope that perhaps one day we won't need disaster studies, we won't need these livestreams and podcasts because researchers like you will reduce the disaster risks in a meaningful, honorable, and reciprocal way. So, thank you for inspiring us all and for sharing everything that you've shared with us today!



The transcript of the first part is also published in this Special Issue; see Beaven et al. (2023). Post-Disaster Research: Challenges and Opportunities.


The Power, Prestige and Forgotten Value Manifesto can be found at


Loïc Le Dé has kindly provided the translation from Spanish during the livestream and in preparation of this transcript.


More information about Wonder Labs can be found at:


Here, Shefali refers to Disasters: Deconstructed S5E6. That can be found at:


LA RED stands for Red de Estudios Sociales en Prevención de Desastres en América Latina (Network of Social Studies in the Prevention of Disasters in Latin America).


The translation of Maria's intervention and her answers during the Q&A session are included as the endnotes in this transcript.


I am currently conducting a research on a disaster that happened after an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 the 19th of September 2017 in the Mexican territory that affected 7 federative entities. After 4 years of the earthquake there are still many questions in relation to the process of recovery of the affected population, particularly those people who live outside the country's capital. This research, in hand with other work that have delivered previously, has helped me to respond to the central objective of the activity that brings us together today towards discussing the opportunities and challenges that are put forward by the studies about and in post-disaster context.

For more than half a century, the interest in the social studies of disaster has been increasing, associated with the transformation that has been happening in the socio-economic dynamics at the global level. Nonetheless, in the last thirty years, since the adoption of The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, there has not been a significant reduction in disaster risk. The economic losses increased on average between 250.000 and 300.000 million US$ per year. Similarly, in median and low-income countries, mortality is increasing, which can express itself in some forty-two million years of human life that are lost annually in disaster.

However, one of the biggest challenges to reflect critically about disasters implies precisely going beyond the analysis constrained to the number of death and the number of economic resources invested in the reconstruction process after the event. The studies centered on cost-benefit approaches have demonstrated their limitations; they are oriented to determine the quantity of money spent on the replacement of damaged buildings and infrastructures. In this sense, it is imperative to put on the same level the necessity of adopting measures to address the factors underlying the risk and therefore the conditions of vulnerability.

Hence, I would like to call attention to the profoundly anthropocentric character that has characterized the reflections of social scientists around disaster events. By large, the proposals coming from these studies understand disasters from two dimensions: the natural limits surpassed by human expansion and the anthropocentrism/ecocentrism discussion. Nevertheless, the construction of a significant theory that alerts the dependency of the human being on the environment from dialectic and historic perspectives has been left aside.

Equally, it is necessary to point towards a critical focus by which documenting and studying the capitalist spoliation and its concrete ecological consequences. The decisions oriented to generate economic growth carry processes that have potentially disastrous ecological results where a great part of the population becomes more vulnerable due to unequal economic relationships.

Another dimension that I think is important to problematize is how increasingly the post-disaster context has become an opportunity for the materialization of political and economic agendas. There, neoliberalism works for the reordering of the relationship between the government and private capital, partying from a type of corporativism where it canalizes funds and public resources towards the public sector in exchange for the provision of services, like the management of the reconstruction. Furthermore, this is supported by a modernist ideological frame where the technocrats conceive specific transformation of the built environment; amongst them, the homogenization of the territory and housing, and incorporation of aesthetic elements, like ways to transfer a space considered poor or traditional.

It is necessary to signal and analyze the articulation of public and private actors that serve pro-entrepreneurship urbanism, given that conjunctures become opportunities to generate dynamics of construction and reconstruction that are excluding, in general, low negotiation power. From this logic, in addition, the values and sentiments of those who experience disaster directly are discarded, being considered obstacles to the application of the “best rational practice in the prevention and recovery of disaster,” according to the perspective of the developers and planners. From there, the experiences, knowledge, and emotions of the populations affected are interpreted as barriers to the cost-benefit analysis or for the technoscientific management of the disaster; but equally the “experts” and the elites promote the desire for certain environments and human-material relationships with a tendency to reproduce capital.

In that sense, another challenge that presents itself in the studies of post-disaster context is the unfolding of critical reflection that will allow understanding in what way the negatives effects of a disaster are deepened due to the inequities expressed in certain processes of recovery and the gaps that exist between knowledge, decision-making and practice-oriented to respond to these problematics.

The previous argument introduces a third dimension within the post-disaster recovery process that I think is important to highlight, the so-called humanitarian help or assistance. This is ingrained in ideological frames coming from charity and philanthropy, which are expressed in the act of protecting and saving lives. Currently, humanitarianism, in addition, is adverted like a movement and an effort of compassion to provide assistance and protection to the populations at risk. Nonetheless, this is also a business where you compete for the participation of the market. We have noticed that the number of government and non-government organizations that engage in disasters has increased everywhere. A type of economy or industry of disasters that is among the ones of greater growth in the world.

Even when the result of humanitarian assistance is positive, it materializes following the terms and relationships of power that come from the instances that present their “help.” Furthermore, the exceptional character that presents itself after a disaster gives place to tension between compassion and order, justifying interventions under a moral criterion of what is humanitarian and from the “sympathy” that the disasters provoke. There, the needs of the population affected to become a humanitarian concern, while the chimera of equality in the face of a conjuncture that affects all the spheres of society converts itself into the motor of collective action.

Which takes me to refer to an additional element that should mainstream our research and that I understand as a challenge, but also as an opportunity. The recovery post-disaster must be understood, not only from the verticality of the decision and actions of the diverse stakeholders involved, but it must also give a better visualization of the processes that within the affected groups emerge in response to the effects faced in disaster. In many cases, initiatives are generated, needs are evaluated, and collective movements are produced to face the problems, without expecting external support. Equally, it is imperative to understand the processes of re-definition and re-organization of those social practices, which means, analyzing the ways of incorporating neoliberal logic for the benefit of local groups and communities in the face of disaster events.

However, tackling those aspects does not dilute the importance of visualizing the underlying causes of the disaster. The development of community-based practices to survive must be recognized, but without losing sight that these do not resolve the root of the social problems that expose certain people to suffer damages and that, in addition, they pause great challenges for them to recover after the impact of the disaster. Focusing only on the community's capacities like the solutions to mitigate or reduce risk does not address the root causes of the problem. There, it shifts the focus away from the key factors associated with vulnerability, such as poverty and inequality. I could add additional elements to the discussion, but to respect the time limit I leave it here, thanks a lot.


More information about Bill Anderson Fund is available at:


For more information about SSEER network, please see:


For more information about Disaster Justice Network, please see:


The most recent examples I can comment on are related to the research I am currently doing. By the way, the fourth anniversary of the earthquake in Mexico is about to be celebrated. In this case, precisely, there was an organizational process known as the Red Nacional de Damnificados. This is a network that was made up of people who were demanding the right to decent housing in the various entities of the country affected by the earthquake. Thanks to this organizational process, it has been possible to establish links with the federal government so that the corruption that occurred in the allocation of resources to address this problem is recognized.

Similarly, in the capital of the country, the organizational process generated in the housing area known as Multifamiliar Tlalpan is widely recognized. This was a successful case of reconstruction thanks to the organizational process of the victims. However, as I made explicit in my speech, in the Mexican case, the fact that these organizational processes are visible does not mean that the structural causes of risk and vulnerability associated with this type of a disaster have been resolved.


Returning a little to what JC commented, it is a rather complex issue, considering the hegemony that exists in ideological terms, since the affected people themselves take up these discourses as a strategy to access the aid offered. Here, we would have to notice how people appropriate these neoliberal ideologies and practices to obtain certain resources. On the other hand, how also under this logic of humanitarian aid are produced interventions in the territories under the logic of modernizing some spaces, and “eradicating” poverty and what is considered “traditional”.


Alburo-Cañete, K.Z. (2020), “PhotoKwento: co-constructing women's narratives of disaster recovery”, Disasters, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 887-912.

Gaillard, J.C. (2022), The Invention of Disaster, Routledge, Abingdon, New York.

Lukes, S. (2005), “Questions about power: lessons from the Louisiana hurricane”, in Understanding Katrina: Perspective from the Social Sciences website”, available at:

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Kaira Zoe Alburo-Cañete can be contacted at:

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