current debate

Is disaster-related research and practice in the Global South unfavorably guided by Northern ideas?

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Winners of the “best contribution” awards

The committee members (JC Gaillard, Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo, Gonzalo Lizarralde, and Faten Kikano) acknowledge the engagement of all participants and their thoughtful contributions to this debate. They determined that the winners are:
Vanicka Arora – First prize, best comments
1000 CAD$
Duvan Hernan – Second prize
500 CAD$
Ekatherina Zhukova – Third prize
300 CAD$
Congratulations to winners!

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The moderator’s opening remarks

Poor countries—sometimes termed collectively the Global South—suffer the most from disasters and the effects of global warming. And yet, as many experts deplore, research and policy in disaster reduction and response are dominated by ideas developed by decision-makers and intellectuals from rich countries—the Global North. They believe that whether or not it’s intentional, scholars of disaster studies reproduce a form of academic colonialism. Scholarship mirrors power relationships between the North and South, the West and the Rest. For them, local knowledge is overlooked, and disaster studies are over-influenced by Western concepts. Foreign researchers and decision-makers too often filter the reality of developing countries through their own culture’s assumptions and values. This leads to policies and projects that rarely fit the needs and expectations of poor communities in the South. Moreover, local and indigenous explanations that may better reflect reality are often scorned and replaced with imported concepts and paradigms like “resilience,” “sustainability,” adaptation, and informality. Critics of these narratives claim that alien concepts are at least useless, and at worst dangerous. They argue for an intellectual and moral reform that moves research away from Western concepts and ideas.
Not all experts agree, though. Some find that focusing on researchers’ birthplace, nationality, or long-term proximity to the problem is wrong. Researchers’ proximity to the people and situations being analyzed does not guarantee the quality and pertinence of their ideas. The value of the knowledge they produce depends on the rigor of their research methods and the depth of their understanding of the context under study. They also contest the allegations of Western academic colonialism, and note that presently, one of the most prolific producers of disaster studies is China. Moreover, they argue that academic marginalization does not exist solely in relations between the North and the South; power imbalances also occur between researchers within the same country, whether wealthy or poor, and are grounded on unequal center-periphery relations. Some even argue that the distance between Western scholars and the contexts they investigate sometimes enables them to provide insightful readings of local situations, through original lenses and from unforeseen angles. Some foreign academics also use their knowledge and their prominence to reveal social injustices and wrong practices and fight for the rights of vulnerable populations in the South. From their perspective, the real enemy is not “academic colonialism” but the competitive model prevailing in academia both in developed and developing countries.
So, are disaster studies and practices being dominated by Northern concepts and ideas? Our panellists will reply to this question, presenting their most persuasive arguments over the next ten days. But the outcome of the debate rests in your hands. Don’t hesitate to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Better yet, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision.

هل هناك تأثير خطير وسلبي لأفكار الشمال في الممارسة العملية والأبحاث في مجال الكوارث وتغير المناخ في بلدان الجنوب؟

البلدان الفقيرة – التي تسمى أحيانًا بالجنوب العالمي – تعاني أكثر من غيرها من البلدان من الكوارث وآثار الاحترار العالمي. ومع ذلك ، يستنكر العديد من الخبراء هيمنة الأفكار العلمية التي طوًّرت في الشمال العالمي على الأبحاث والسياسات المتبعة في تلك البلدان في ما يخص دراساتالكوارث. فهم يعتقدون أنه سواء كان ذلك عن قصد أم لا ، فإن علماء دراسات الكوارث ينتجون شكلاً من أشكال الاستعمار الأكاديمي الذي يعكس علاقاتالقوة بين الشمال والجنوب. بالنسبة لهم، المعرفة المحلية غالباً ما يتم تجاهلها لصالح المفاهيم والثقافات الغربية. وهذا الأمر يؤدي إلى سياسات ومشاريع نادراًما تناسب احتياجات وتوقعات المجتمعات الفقيرة في الجنوب. علاوة على ذلك ، فإن التفسيرات المحلية التي تعكس الواقع بشكل أفضل غالباً ما يتم استبدالهابمفاهيم ونماذج غربية “كالمرونة” ، و”الاستدامة” ، والتكيف ، إلخ…، وهي مفاهيم غير مجدية، ومن المحتمل ان تسبب حتى بنتائج سلبية. لهذه الأسباب،يدعوا هؤلاء الخبراء إلى الإصلاح الفكري والأخلاقي الذي يبعد الأبحاث المتخصصة بالكوارث عن المفاهيم والأفكار الغربية
لكن، ليس جميع الخبراء موافقون. فالبعض يجد أن التركيز على مسقط رأس الباحثين أو جنسيتهم أو قربهم من المشكلة أمر خاطئ ولا يضمن صلابةأفكارهم وتحاليلهم وملاءمتها. بالنسبة لهم، تتعلق قيمة المعرفة التي ينتجونها على دقة أساليب البحث وعمق فهمهم للسياق قيد الدراسة. يعارض أيضا هؤلاءالخبراء فكرة الاستعمار الأكاديمي الغربي ، زاعمين ان الصين مثلاً تعد من أكثر البلدان انتاجاً لدراسات الكوارث. علاوة على ذلك ، يجادلون بأن التهميشالأكاديمي لا يوجد فقط في العلاقات بين الشمال والجنوب، فان اختلالات القوى تحدث أيضًا بين الباحثين في نفس البلد ، سواء كانوا أثرياء أو فقراء ، وسواءتواجدوا في المناطق المركزية أو في الأطراف الريفية المعزولة. البعض يجادل أيضاً بأن البعد الفعلي والثقافي بين العلماء الغربيين والسياقات التي يحققونفيها أبحاثهم تمكنهم أحيانًا من انتاج قراءات متعمقة للمواقف المحلية ، من خلال عدسات غير منظورة ومن زوايا غير متوقعة. يزعمون أيضاً ان بعضالأكاديميين الأجانب يستغلون بروزهم وشعبيتهم لكشف الظلم الاجتماعي والممارسات الخاطئة وللكفاح من أجل حقوق السكان المستضعفين في الجنوب. منوجهة هؤلاء الخبراء، العدو الحقيقي ليس “الاستعمار الأكاديمي” بل النموذج التنافسي السائد في الأوساط الأكاديمية في البلدان المتقدمة والنامية على حد سواء
إذن ، هل دراسات الكوارث تهيمن عليها المفاهيم والأفكار الشمالية؟ سيرد أعضاء فريق المناقشة على هذا السؤال ، ويقدمون حججهم الأكثر إقناعًا خلالالأيام العشرة القادمة. لكن نتيجة النقاش تقع بين يديك. لا تتردد في التصويت على الفور – يمكنك دائمًا تغيير رأيك.  والأفضل من ذلك ، أضف افكارك إلىالمناقشة واشرح قرارك

¿Existe una influencia peligrosa de las ideas del Norte en la práctica y en la investigación científica en el área de los desastres y el cambio climático en los países del Sur?

Los países “pobres”, “en vía de desarrollo”, o aquellos que solemos llamar “El Sur”, son actualmente los más afectados por desastres y por los efectos del cambio climático. Pero paradójicamente, muchos expertos consideran que la investigación científica y las políticas para la reducción y mitigación de desastres están siendo dominadas por ideas desarrolladas por académicos y tomadores de decisiones de los países más ricos (“El Norte”).  Para algunos de estos expertos, los investigadores interesados en desastres, cambio climático, y reconstrucción, reproducen (intencionalmente o no) formas clásicas de colonialismo intelectual. El trabajo académico es aún un fiel reflejo de las relaciones de poder entre El Norte y El Sur o entre las sociedades occidentales (consideradas más avanzadas) y las demás. El conocimiento local es muchas veces ignorado, y los estudios y trabajos científicos son generalmente demasiado contaminados por ideas del mundo “industrializado”, “desarrollado”, “occidental”.  Tanto los investigadores como los agentes externos mas influyentes generalmente interpretan los problemas y realidades del Sur a través de sus propios prejuicios y valores. Esto conduce a que las políticas y los proyectos muchas veces no responden ni a las necesidades ni a las expectativas de las comunidades más pobres y marginalizadas del Sur. Muchos conceptos y definiciones locales, indígenas y vernaculares son sistemáticamente ignorados, o considerados inferiores, y remplazados por ideas y paradigmas extranjeros, como el de la “resiliencia”, la “sostenibilidad”, la “adaptación”, y la “informalidad”. Algunos críticos de estas “narrativas foráneas” consideran que muchos de estos conceptos son, en el mejor de los casos, inútiles, y en el peor de los casos, sencillamente peligrosos y contraproducentes. Según ellos, es necesaria una trasformación radical en el área de los desastres, el cambio climático y la reconstrucción para deshacerse de conceptos e ideas mal adaptadas a las realidades del Sur.
Sin embargo, no todos los expertos están de acuerdo con estos argumentos. Para muchos, enfocarse en el sitio de nacimiento, en la nacionalidad o en la proximidad con el caso de estudio del investigador es equivocado, pues estos factores no necesariamente garantizan la calidad o la pertinencia de las ideas científicas. El valor de las ideas depende mas bien del rigor científico, de los métodos de trabajo y de la profundidad de análisis del contexto estudiado. Muchos consideran que actualmente la misma idea del colonialismo intelectual de occidente es una distracción, pues países como China pueden ser incluso más prolíficos en los estudios de desastres y cambio climático que los países del Norte. Además, formas de marginalización académica y desequilibrio de poder existen no solo entre el Norte y el Sur, sino también al interior de los países más pobres; por ejemplo, entre los ricos y pobres, entre la élite (generalmente de piel más clara y estatus económico más alto) y los excluidos, y entre las mayorías y las minorías (indígenas, o negras, por ejemplo). Algunos expertos incluso consideran que cierta forma de “distancia” del problema social a estudiar puede ser positiva para producir lecturas e interpretaciones más objetivas, originales o inesperadas, a partir de perspectivas innovadoras y nuevos ángulos de análisis. Además, algunos investigadores y militantes extranjeros usan su influencia y conocimiento para denunciar injusticias sociales del Sur y opresiones locales, así como para defender la causa de los más pobres y vulnerables. Según algunos expertos, el verdadero enemigo ya no esta en el colonialismo académico Norte-Sur, sino en los sistemas políticos, sociales, y universitarios arcaicos que prevalecen tanto en países ricos como “pobres”.
Lo cual nos lleva a la siguiente pregunta: ¿Existe una influencia peligrosa de las ideas del Norte en la práctica y en la investigación científica en el área de los desastres y el cambio climático en los países del Sur? Dos panelistas tratarán de responder a esta pregunta en nuestro debate en línea; pero el verdadero resultado del debate esta en manos de los participantes, a quienes invitamos a escribir y votar en nuestra página. 

La recherche et la pratique dans les études des catastrophes dans le Sud Global sont-elles dominées par des idées du Nord?  

Les pays pauvres – désignés collectivement comme les pays du Sud – sont ceux qui souffrent le plus des effets des catastrophes et du réchauffement planétaire. Or, comme le déplorent de nombreux experts, la recherche et la pratique dans les études des catastrophes sont dominées par des idées développées par des chercheurs et des décideurs du Nord. Ils croient que, intentionnellement ou non, les études sur les catastrophes reproduisent une forme de colonialisme académique, reflétant les relations de pouvoir entre le Nord et le Sud. Pour eux, les connaissances locales sont délaissées à l’avantage de l’influence de concepts académiques et culturels occidentaux. Cela conduit à l’adoption de politiques et de projets qui répondent peu ou mal aux besoins et aux attentes des communautés locales. De plus, des concepts et paradigmes occidentaux inutiles, voire dangereux, tels que « la résilience », « la durabilité », « l’adaptation » et « l’informalité » remplacent des explications locales pouvant mieux traduire la réalité. Ces experts plaident pour une réforme intellectuelle et morale qui éloignerait la recherche sur les catastrophes des concepts et des paradigmes occidentaux.
Cependant, tous les experts ne sont pas d’accord. Certains trouvent que se focaliser sur le lieu de naissance, la nationalité ou la proximité à long terme du chercheur est une erreur, la proximité des chercheurs avec les situations analysées ne garantissant pas la qualité et la pertinence de leurs idées. Selon eux, la valeur des connaissances produites dépend de la rigueur des méthodes de recherche et de la profondeur de la compréhension du contexte à l’étude. Ils contestent les allégations de colonialisme académique occidental et notent qu’actuellement, la Chine produit le plus d’études sur les catastrophes. En outre, ils font valoir que la marginalisation académique n’existe pas uniquement dans les relations Nord – Sud, mais également entre les chercheurs d’un même pays, selon des relations hiérarchiques entre le centre et la périphérie, ou bien entre les riches et les pauvres. Certains experts prétendent même que la distance qui sépare les chercheurs occidentaux des contextes sur lesquels ils enquêtent leur permet parfois de fournir des lectures innovantes et inédites des situations locales. Certains utilisent leurs connaissances et leur visibilité pour révéler les injustices sociales et les mauvaises pratiques et se battre pour les droits des populations vulnérables du Sud. Du point de vue de ces experts, le véritable ennemi n’est pas le “colonialisme académique”, mais plutôt la concurrence académique qui prévaut dans les universités, tant dans les pays développés que dans les pays en voie de développement.
Les études et les pratiques en matière de catastrophes sont-elles dominées par les concepts et les idées du Nord? Nos panélistes répondront à cette question en présentant leurs arguments les plus convaincants au cours des prochains jours. Mais l’issue du débat repose entre vos mains. N’hésitez pas à voter immédiatement. Vous pouvez toujours changer d’avis. Mieux encore, une fois que vous avez voté, ajoutez vos commentaires au débat et expliquez votre décision !

 

JCGJC Gaillard argues that research and practice in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction in the Global South are unfavorably guided by Northern concepts and ideas
JC Gaillard is an Associate Professor at the School of Environment of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He graduated in geography from Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, and obtained his PhD from Université de Savoie in Chambéry. He was then successively a member of the faculties of the University of the Philippines Diliman and Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble. His research interests include Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); participation and inclusion in DRR; participatory tools for DRR; small and neglected disasters; and post-disaster resettlement. JC has published many articles in prominent journals and coedited a number of books among which The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction published in 2012. 
Carmen MendozaCarmen Mendoza-Arroyo argues that research and practice in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction in the Global South are not unfavorably guided by Northern concepts and ideas 
Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo is an architect and a PhD researcher in Urban Design and Planning. She is an Associate Professor and an Assistant Director at the School of Architecture of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC Barcelona). She is the director of the Master in International Cooperation: Sustainable Emergency Architecture. Her research reflects on how the separation in the study of the social and physical environments has caused a schism in the understanding of space, place, and social order. Her most recent research includes urban reconstruction and resilience in the field of emergency architecture as well as urban integration strategies for displaced populations and refugees. Carmen has published articles and book chapters, and edited a number of books.
The proposer’s opening remarks
In 1976, when Taking the naturalness out of natural disasters‘ by P. O’Keefe et al. was published, only two social science journal articles referred to the concepts of ‘disaster’ & ‘vulnerability’ to frame their argument. However, according to the Scopus database (see figure), the same concepts were used by 2940 articles in 2018 (Figure 1). This sharp increase reflects how popular these two concepts have become and how widespread they now are in all sorts of contexts across the world.Picture1 Yet ‘disaster’ and ‘vulnerability’ are two concepts of Latin etymology that do not translate well into many languages of different etymologies. Their hegemonic use in ‘disaster’ studies, at least those which are published in English (not only a clear bias but also a reflection of the dominance English has in contemporary academic circles), within and beyond their original contexts, thus reflects the dominance of a particular understanding of and approach to disasters over others. This debate is thus one that centres on ontologies, epistemologies and power relations.
The spread of Latin-based disaster-related concepts such as disaster and vulnerability but also resilience, adaptation, capacity/ies, etc., mirrors the influence of Western ontologies and epistemologies within disaster studies. While these are very diverse, they still share a common legacy inherited from the Enlightenment. The issue here is therefore not the ontologies and epistemologies themselves but their widespread adoption out of their original context which reflects and perpetuates both colonial and neo-colonial histories. To use Edward Said’s language, it promulgates an ‘Orientalist’ view of disasters.
In the meantime, large disasters, which capture the attention of most researchers, are occurring more frequently in regions of the world where people share very diverse and different worldviews. Many of these worldviews have unique scientific traditions that build upon epistemologies that are as rigorous and meaningful as those inherited from the Enlightenment. However, they are often overwhelmed by alien understandings of disasters as if, to echo Frantz Fanon, adopting approaches of the West was a symbol of elevated status and more rigorous values.
The hegemony of Western ontologies and epistemologies in disaster studies has underpinned a normative agenda for disaster risk reduction. It has sustained decades of international policies that have encouraged the transfer of experience and resources from the West to the rest of the world, thus further skewing the relationships between the powerful and the less powerful. On the ground, these have often materialised in standardised practices that filter disaster risk assessment and reduction initiatives through the lens of concepts of Latin and cognate etymologies that often lack the ability to fully capture the reality of people’s everyday life in dealing with what researchers commonly call ‘hazards’ and ‘disasters’.
An obvious example of such skewed practices are the so-called Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) toolboxes. These toolboxes rely on taxonomic categorisations of people’s resources and identities according to age, gender and physical abilities. These categories, often associated with quantitative and/or demographic indicators and pre-conceived ideas of people’s everyday lives, often appear as boxes to fill in. In the case of gendered approaches to assessing and reducing disaster risk, this perspective has proved inappropriate to capture non-binary and liminal identities that are common in many regions of the world.The hegemony of Western ontologies and epistemologies ultimately contradicts the very essence of the paradigm put forward in ‘Taking the Naturalness out of Natural Disasters’ and its associated commitment to people’s participation in reducing disaster risk. We nonetheless often claim to embrace this paradigm when we frame our studies with concepts such as disaster and vulnerability. This constitutes an intriguing incongruity that may be to the detriment of local and indigenous perspectives.
The opponent’s opening remarks
The challenge for professionals national and local, not only international is how to engage with the majority of construction that happens as non-engineered structures in informal, unplanned settlements. This is where the major risks and vulnerabilities are.” Graham Saunders
(From the symposium Creation and Catastrophe held at the  RIBA, 2016).
I would like to begin with this quote by the wonderful humanitarian architect, Graham Saunders. In this line of thought, it is important to underscore that the vast majority of reconstruction is carried out by families and local builders, and it is this capacity that needs to be developed to achieve safer buildings. In other words, the first and most important requirement is that local communities in affected regions be seen as active collaborators, rather than helpless beneficiaries of aid relief. Hence, our work must create opportunities for capacity building so that local professionals can assume complex processes, and this be seen as a priority to be addressed before disasters occur. Likewise, one of the major challenges of our profession is the co-creation of knowledge, knowledge sharing, and its translation into local building codes in disaster prone countries, in order to introduce better and safer construction processes.
The reason disaster studies and practices are questioned for being over-influenced by Western conceptsand dominated by ideas developed in rich countries, is that we very often forget that Architecture must promote the uniqueness of a place and, in order to accomplish  this, we must keep its culture alive. From this perspective, our drivers to create resilience and to adapt to disaster, is to work with the causes, the history and the cultures in which we intervene. The local culture will facilitate work or it will inhibit it if our work is counter to the culture. When a sense of place is reinforced in the efforts to reduce disaster risk and recover from disaster, the possibility for autonomy will emerge, despite the implementation of technical western concepts.
As professionals and academics we must understand the relationship between what we know as it relates to our expertise and what we do not or cannot know, so as not to create relationships of dominance or imposition. Furthermore, working professionally is vital, as well as acknowledging that local communities need active support in devising their own recovery and in building in a safe and efficient manner. Another important point to consider, which reinforces the need to draw social, technical and community aspects into urban based crisis response, is that today architecture and built design professionals have to accept that the disaster field is merging with other areas, such as climate change adaptation and increasing displacement and migration, all of which are changing the field substantially. This constitutes a working field which is more and more complex. This complexity requires a multifaceted, comprehensive view on different scales of the built and natural environment, much more resources, as well as greater expertise.
Finally, one of the constant factors that amplify or mitigate risk is perception. Risk perception closely connects to culture and ideology. If the perception is that the work is being done to serve the people, it can have a positive influence; if the perception is that it is at the service of vested interests, the influence will be a bad or corrupt one. As such, a foreignperspective can offer the proper distance to the root causes of risk and introduce a comparative view and broader scope.
In summary, it is important to recognize and increase the capacity of local groups and professionals by providing a horizontallearning experience between local organisations and the broader professional institutional collaborations, as well as by strengthening global professional networks.

 

 

 

The proposer’s rebuttal remarks
The debate has partly shifted from ontologies, epistemologies and power relations to researchers’ positionality and power relations. Both are obviously inextricably linked however, as researchers are those who carry out the research that contributes to the hegemony of particular ontologies and epistemologies in disaster studies that then filter down into policies and practices geared towards reducing the risk of disaster. 
Skewed power relations amongst researchers lead to concepts such as disaster and vulnerability to be rolled out of their original regional, ontological and epistemological contexts. This ultimately leads to understandings of ‘disasters’ that may misrepresent the reality as perceived by those who actually deal with the so-called ‘hazards’. This was brilliantly demonstrated by M. Bhatt in his seminal essay on vulnerability.
A recent survey of the papers published in the journal Disasters makes it clear: 84% of authors are associated with institutions located in countries of the OECD (an imperfect proxy for the West), which are less affected by large disasters. The imbalance is particularly evident when looking at ‘high-profile’ cases such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake or the 2015 Nepal earthquake (see figure). Research on disasters is therefore largely dominated by researchers who come from the ‘outside’.

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The situation is, however, not black and white as places of residence and affiliations do not preclude to be ‘grounded’ in places where disasters occur, i.e. the ‘inside’. Some Haitian and Nepalese researchers based in Europe, Northern America and Australasia have been conducting studies in their homelands. In most cases, though, they rely upon Western ontologies and epistemologies centred on concepts such as disaster and vulnerability, just as some ‘local researchers’, including some affected by these disasters, have done as well. This very observation perfectly reflects J. Ranciere’s idea of intellectual submission to, in our case, ontologies and epistemologies inherited from the Enlightenment.
These unequal power relations between researchers are sustained by a coincidence of interests. Principal investigators located in Western countries and their allies, where most research funding is available (China being the most notable exception that confirms the rule here), may give up some funding and consider suggestions from co-investigators based in institutions close to places affected by disasters. In turn, the latter gain opportunities to develop collaborations, access expensive equipment and publish in international journals with colleagues familiar with Anglophone academic writing, thus advancing their own careers.
Both the intellectual submission and coincidence of interest between researchers are crucial to understanding the hegemony, in A. Gramsci’s terms, of ontologies and epistemologies inherited from the Enlightenment in disaster studies and their influence on disaster risk reduction policies and practices. Disaster scholarship clearly has a core and a periphery, or an inside and an outside to use J. Blaut’s words.
Such unequal power relations between researchers, as well as the ontologies and epistemologies that underpin the studies they conduct, are similarly obvious within countries, including those where such approaches are alien. Scholars affiliated with universities located in capital and other large cities, who are often better resourced and connected to the rest of the academic world and, henceforth, permeable to the hegemony of the Enlightenment, commonly exert the same control over institutions and scholars at the periphery. This reflects the Westernisation of and, as D. Alexander rightly emphasised, increasing ‘competitivity’ within the academia. These can both be seen as colonial and neoliberal heritages.
Again, there are incongruities in how disaster scholarship have been shaped. Many of us seem to embrace the paradigm that, forty years ago, challenged the then dominant and hazard-driven understanding of disasters. At the core of this paradigm was the leading role of local researchers and local people, outside of the academic silo, so that studies be grounded in local ontologies and epistemologies. In practice, however, it seems evident that such an approach has not (yet) flourished.
The opponent’s rebuttal remarks
From the insightful contributions of the participants and that of JC Galliard, I think we can all agree that there are certain policies, practices, handbooks, and others that have encouraged the transfer of standards and experience from the West to the rest of the world as rigid guides for recovery, excluding the local adaptive capacity when it comes to disaster recovery. However, thats only part of the issue at hand.
I was born in Bolivia and lived my formative years in various Latin American countries. These Latin American roots and culture are central to me. I acquired my professional tools and methodologies in both Latin America and Barcelona. All this enables me to develop my research in both continents allowing my epistemologies and methodologies to be nurtured by both worlds. Therefore, I truly believe the present debate shouldnt be  solely or specifically circumscribed to the geographical origin of these polices or concepts, but also consider just how impossible it is to blankly adopt standardized assessments and recovery frameworks overall given the diversity of governments, cultures, levels of development and the access to resources of regions striving for recovery.
In this sense, we can agree that effective and culturally relevant recovery is linked to localized adapted frameworks of response instead of global approaches. However, regarding the question of universal shelter standards vs. national standards, Walker, (1996) introduces an interesting argument when he sustains that despite the fact that the Sphere Standards (Sphere Project 2011) were implemented without consultation to national governments and  were consequently alien to local cultural or economic factors, their value resides in providing and establishing minimum standards in the area of shelter and housing which have had an educational value and, if they hadnt been implemented, there could have been much substandard work resulting in hardship for survivors.
Post disaster recovery is high on the agenda of communities, but there is no certainty that disaster risk reduction is. Therefore knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels is necessary to strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response. When it comes to international donors, which are frequently the ones implementing recoverythe discussion is really an issue of accountability and trustrather than the exercise of control. The trust-control dilemmapresented by Davis and Alexander (2016) based on Charles Handys model (Handy, C. 1995) affirms that when this model is applied by international agencies in their agendas and frameworks, they tend to reflect a desire to control at the expense of trust. From this perspective we can say that the real issue is the perception of the level of governance and trust in national and local governments from donors, which influences and shapes their recovery guidelines.
Finally, I would like to reinforce  that post-disaster reconstruction is a social process as much as a technical one, and recovery has to be professionalized so that the technical response is suitable.The impact of naturaldisasters is always local, and so should the response.

 

The proposer’s closing remarks
The momentum around this online debate shows that the time is ripe for a critical reflection upon disaster studies and how these studies inform policies and practices devised to reduce disaster risk. More than 300 people have already expressed their agreement with the recent disaster studies manifesto ‘Power. Prestige & Forgotten Values that calls for such reflection. The document, authored by a team of 24 scholars and practitioners from around the world, suggests three particular areas of reflection to meaningfully inform disaster risk reduction: who research what and how.
1. Research on disaster should focus on whatever is needed and deemed relevant locally. E. Quarantelli and R. Dynes have long taught us that disasters are local issues. Of course, they result from and reflect broader processes that underpin the root causes of these disasters – processes that have been extensively researched over the past four decades. However, understanding what disasters are, their impacts and how people deal with them, most often requires local grounding.
2. Local grounding requires local ontologies and epistemologies so that studies be framed from the most relevant perspective(s). We should therefore be critical of the sole concepts and methodologies inherited from the Enlightenment out of their context. As R. Jigyasu once wrote, our understanding of disaster needs to be turned inside out and not the other way around, as it tends to become, thanks to the “expert” notions of what is a disaster. It is henceforth essential to engage in this ‘revolution in thinking about disasters’ expected by B. Wisner and colleagues back in 1976.
3. We should ultimately support local researchers, who know best local contexts and who are likely to be familiar with local ontologies and epistemologies. They should take the lead to study local disasters. Local scholars should become principal investigators of projects and lead authors of articles and presentations, favouring local outlets and venues to best inform local policies and practices. Local researchers should also include local people through genuine participatory research to answer R. Chambers’ famous call for putting the last first.
This alternative approach to researching disaster calls for some sort of subaltern studies as pioneered by Guha and Spivak in South Asia. Many fields of studies, such as indigenous studies and psychology, have shown us the way. For disaster studies to follow their path we need to break the hegemony of ideas inherited from the Enlightenment and the intellectual submission it entails. This requires consciousness, in Freire’s terms, then emancipation, in Rancière’s, amongst the ‘subalterns’, that are here researchers whose native worldviews differ from those associated with Western perspectives.
Importantly, though, this approach does not preclude outside researchers to collaborate, especially when they have built trust with local peers. As much as possible, the latter should lead and the former support, recognising that, in some contexts, the voices of local researchers may be filtered by state power. Similarly, ontologies and epistemologies influenced by the Enlightenment are not to be ditched all together. They are still important in their original contexts and may be useful to uncover global processes associated with the root causes of disasters and the related normative disaster risk reduction policies.
In summary, disaster studies are not to become exclusive at the detriment of any ideas. It is about diversity, dialogue and co-existence to make sure that the most appropriate ontologies and epistemologies are used to understand disasters and inform policies and practices geared to reduce risk in both local and global contexts.
The opponent’s closing remarks
I would like to start by saying that this has been an excellent debate with very thought-provoking argumentations. The original question of this debate shifted to tie into larger reflections that went beyond the geographical perspective towards understanding that unfavorably guided disaster related research and practice happens due to unsubstantiated ideas, unequal power relations (national and international) which overlook culture and local knowledge and practice due to various factors, like corruption or inequality.
I have argued that local populations must be the backbone of the sustainable improvement of their built environment, since they hold the key to their own capacity, knowledge, resilience, and ultimately their reconstruction. Despite the fact that most of the reports, guidelines or manuals in the past have advocated for standardization, the discussion in recent INGOs reports is centered around the failure of culturally foreign guidelines, and enhance context-adapted, situated solutions, proclaiming that assessment is the foundation for appropriate response, (D. Sanderson and B. Ramalingam,2015:15) both for housing (World Bank/GFDRR, 2012), and urban areas (Currion, 2015). It has become clear that the most important factors for recovery are not only the provision of appropriate technical answers, but the need to adjust to existing local, social, technical, and financial organizational capacity. 
With regard to how foreing aid exercises power in post-disaster recovery, the Four Cs model(Mitchell, 2014 in Sanderson, Kayden and Leis, 2016: 9) offers an interesting perspective: Comprehensive (where there is no local capacity, as in the earthquake in Haiti); Constrained (where operations are limited, as in the Syrian crisis); Collaborative (where agencies fill in the gapsthe government cant cover, as in the Pakistan floods 2010-2011); and Consultative (support to strong local governments as in the 2010 Chilean earthquake). Roughly 50 % of aid spent to date has gone to the Comprehensive, and less than 5% has been spent on the Consultative (Mitchell, 2014). We would probably all agree that an appropriate response would be to only adopt Collaborative and Consultative approaches such as giving support, building skills and enhancing existing resources, however that is not always feasible.
I began this debate sustaining that culturally based approaches which embody traditions and practices need to be implemented and understood better as it relates to risk reduction, and in the IFRC world disasters report the identification of culture and its importance in urban disasters is also gaining importance (Cannon and Schipper, 2014). However, as the case of the populations living in the slopes of La Paz, Bolivia, shows, embracing this argument alone is not enough. Despite the community of the slopes being co-organized to ensure that they dont live on risk prone land, these settlements have overwhelmed urban planning and as a consequence, disasters have increased, with loses of life, houses and livelihoods(Cannon and Schipper, 2014:71). Therefore, in countries where resources are limited and where policy, planning and delivery mechanisms are weak, we must support people and their culture providing them with the resources to make better choices, as well as support their advocacy efforts for laws and planning codes that protect them.  Finally, reconstruction projects must build on a change of perspective achieved by understanding situated social and physical strengths and dynamics as the key ethical approach to design in the humanitarian field.

The moderator’s closing remarks

A core and a periphery in disaster-related research and practice 
Research and practice in the disaster field still replicates power imbalances among and within nations. Radical change is needed.
In our latest online debate, about 70 percent of participants consistently argued that there is a form of colonialism and Northern intellectual hegemony in disaster research and practice. Both sides of the debate agree that change is urgently needed. Disaster-related research and practice should focus on local needs, expectations, knowledge, and resources, with an emphasis on preserving traditions, values, and the “sense of place.” Importantly, local researchers and practitioners—familiar with the context and local ontologies and epistemologies—must be trusted and supported.
But panellists’ and participants’ opinions on whether disaster studies and practices are unfavourably guided by the North raise additional questions and seem to require certain distinctions. In particular, two main challenges were exposed.
The first challenge concerns the source of ideas. Whereas it is relatively easy to identify the origins of military and political colonialism and imperialism, it is harder to determine the origin of disaster-related ideas, epistemologies, and methodologies. Duvan Lopez rightly reminded us that intellectual hegemony is generated from “power imbalances that occur between nations; but also, inside countries, neighbourhoods and households.” Participants also asserted that some influences are rooted in power relationships that transcend the classic relationships between the North and the South, the West and the rest. In this vein, we explored South-North and South-South influences, pointing to examples in which the transfer of ideas occurs in more than one direction. Some participants argued that unequal power relations exist between researchers and practitioners, regardless of their countries of residence and professional affiliations. Power inequalities are based on a number of elements, such as core-periphery political relationships, connections to professional networks, funding, visibility, and access to social media.
There seems to be a consensus that some form of complicity sometimes exists between “external” researchers and practitioners in the disaster field and political and economic agendas. Are these influences a form of systematic international colonialism, or just ordinary stupidity and corruption? Answering this question also proved difficult. Disaster capitalism, for instance, is imposed by foreign leaders and corporations, but it is also imposed by local politicians and companies that, attracted by the lure of financial profit, often disregard the root causes of vulnerability. Other forms of domination, based on local political partisanship, for instance, also neglect the affected populations’ needs and aspirations, local practices, cultural beliefs, meanings and values.
The second challenge concerns the classification of researchers and practitioners. Whereas it is easy to agree on the need for new methods and frameworks based on insiders’ knowledge and practices, it is more difficult to determine who should be considered an “insider” or “outsider.” Several problems arise when the discussion moves from the existence of Northern/Western ideas to whom, exactly, embodies those ideas. Most of us find it easy to label ideas as “Northern,” “external,” or “alien,” but we sometimes find it more difficult to classify researchers and practitioners under local/external dichotomies. Can researchers and studies be classified according to geographic locations? Can we ignore the uniqueness of each researcher and the complexity of their personality, background, ethics, values, and methods in the name of a fight against scientific imbalances?
Aren’t we mistakenly labeling individuals when we claim that there is a need to support local researchers and let them take the lead to study “their” local disasters?  Aren’t we, as Vanicka argued, proceeding to an “othering” of sorts, by presenting the “local” researcher as free from global influence and a non-political actor? Vanicka also rightly pointed out that the common assumption that “the local exists as independent from the global, is wrong. It is also mistaken to demonize the North and assume that, in opposition to it, “there exists a cohesive ‘local,’ which is less prone to inequality, corruption and power dynamics.”
Despite these challenges, the majority of participants agree that intellectual elitism in research studies and practices is real and dangerous. But whereas statistics show that most disaster studies are products of the North, the dominance of concepts and paradigms is not only a North-South phenomenon. Like any other form of social injustice, power imbalances in disaster-related research and practice are rooted in differences that exist among nations, but also within countries, cities, communities, and organisations. A paradigm shift is indeed needed, and disaster studies and practices must originate from knowledge, understanding, and respectful consideration for the context under study.
Like all our previous online debates, this one proved to be a popular success. The online site was visited almost 1600 times from about 700 people in 60 countries. This 9th debate, organized by Oeuvre durable and i-Rec, received over 100 votes and 90 comments. The opening remarks were posted in four languages.
I want to thank J.C and Carmen for their thoughtful ideas and their contribution to this debate. I also want to thank Faten for her ideas, her help in organising the activity, and translating my opening remarks into French and Arabic. Special thanks to Ilan, who provided excellent sources and references for this discussion. Finally, thanks to Vanicka, Duvan, Mercedes, Damiana, Ekatherina, Georgia, Syed Harir, Sujata, Muhammad, and everyone who participated for sharing their comments and pertinent ideas.

 

 

90 thoughts on “current debate

  1. Welcome to our 9th Online debate. I am sure we will have an interesting discussion about scholarship and policy in disaster prevention and reaction. Do not forget to cast your vote. Here we go!

    1. This debate cannot be presented as a matter of individuals being more or less authorized to shape an idea or concept regarding their geographical origin. Neither it deals, from my perspective, on the legitimacy of concepts or ideas contributing to disaster ́s management, according to their provenance.

      Foreigners may, in fact, contribute with valuable insights and play a catalytic role to protect vulnerable populations in concrete scenarios of the Global South. What should be pointed out, when denouncing the unfavorable bias and colonialism in North-South relationships, are some logics that largely overcome the performance of well-intentioned researchers and practitioners.

      Unfavorable bias and colonialism are implicitly operated in the research and practice by epistemological, ethical, and political approaches that filter the different aspects of the contextual reality. Only a proportion of the whole processes involved in the contexts of disaster would be considered in the research, pondered as valuable, reliable, fair, or adjusted to the law, and then served through the implementation. This epistemological, ethical, political reducement conduce to underestimate some aspects in a logic of exclusion, by leaving apart, for example, a problematic group or community; this mechanisms can also function in a logic of omission to avoid, for example, the accounting of certain responsibilities in the setting or triggering of disasters.

      These logics of exclusion and omission are political operations that serve, benefit, or assault certain interests. Detractors of colonialism are right in identifying that power imbalances can occur inside the limits of a country, and I would say further in the limits of a neighborhood, a household, or even an individuality. Colonialisms spreads from the domain of geopolitics to the domain of biopolitics. The reproduction of the power and the capital may be operated from Switzerland and Wall Street into the national regulatory frames, or through the mass media, conditioning the general opinion or daily life.

      Back to the topic of disasters: The methods of assessment, the inventory of damages, the range of alternatives and the patterns of a reconstruction, the allotment of funding, and the operation of such usually act opening windows for benefit, not only in favor of those directly impacted by disasters, but for a variety of providers, intermediaries and outsiders that result turning around. The level of transference in favor of these external actors, not the nationality or origin of their ideas, would indicate somehow, in my opinion, the level of colonialism of an initiative.

      In the end, what happens is that in the playground of interests occurs a general flow or transference of investments, resources, benefits, and wealthy. That certainly occurs with a North/West preference, in front of the South/rest of the society. This definition does not necessarily imply some specific ranges of latitude or longitude where the benefits and consequences of the development result distributed, this could be better understood from the perspective of the “geography of the risk” quoting to Ulrich Beck. Different authors have also contributed to provide meaning to this concept of the Global South and to understand the corresponding mechanisms for the transference of impacts and benefit from the perspective of the critical thinking and the denominated “spatial turn” in the human sciences.

      Up to here, I set the general remarks of my discussion

      (Sorry for repeat the comment, please keep this one)

    2. Before making a proposal of whether “the disaster-related research and practice in the Global South are unfavorably guided by Northern ideas or not”, I consider that these disaster-related matter should emerge from the research that is totally immersed in the daily realities of the affected populations for which solutions are being sought. Precisely because these types of actions are affected by the creativity of the population and their organizations, they have to be very sensitive to the various vulnerable and risky contexts that exist. Therefore, any external intervention should be born out of great respect and knowledge of local efforts in order to identify, analyze and propose appropriate solutions to them.

      If we agree with conviction that a disaster is a social phenomenon first of all, and as a concrete product and of temporarily long frecuency, we would modify the assumption that this field of knowledge studies: “repetitive behaviors and with established patterns” (Dynes 1988: 102), placing it as subject of study of permanent reflection. As long as this doesn’t happen, government policies will not give ground to this discipline, whose objective of study is considered sporadic. Quoting Quarantelli, who suggests replacing the term “event” with the idea of “occasion”, emphasizing the notion of opportunity for something to happen and not as an end result.

    3. Greetings to all,

      My opinion declines towards the idea that there’s a favorable bias towards Northern ideas, but with a compromise. First of all, I think it’s important not to fall into a dichotomy between northern and southern ideologies, specially since such arrangement could open the field to an academic feud. Gonzalo Lizarralde’s states that “marginalization does not exist solely in relations between the North and the South; [… but] also occur between […] wealthy or poor, and are grounded on unequal center-periphery relations.” This expands to western current of thought too, there’s not a single monolithic northern/western current, nor a single southern counterpart, we have to take this into consideration, and the fact that they sometimes are interconnected.

      There are several ways to dive into this, and I think when possible we should drive towards specificity to set a clear framework for context and terminology. Two cases that exemplify these dynamics within western though are those of Francisco de Vitoria and Vasco de Quiroga: Vitoria was an avid opponent of the way the conquest was being carried in the Americas, and set a huge precedent for human rights; Quiroga advocated for the end of slavery, protection of natives, and developed a successful education model based on craftsmanship which has left long-lasting institutions in Michoacán (Mx). Even though these two priests worked for a colonization movement (specially Quiroga with the spiritual conquest), they represented a bifurcation of an early “discovery doctrine” that was established by the Council of Trent, thus they were too marginalized, this became even more apparent when the Jesuits came to the continent and were later expelled because of the breach they represented between colonial institutions.

      Here lays the matter of the division between settler-colonial nations and ideologies as they diverged vastly on how they conducted their affairs overseas, when talking about the biggest colonial nations (England, and Spain) the contrast is pretty evident, Iberoamerican culture has had a much more knotted intellectual development between natives and their European counterparts being also morphed by these interactions, maybe this is why I think this way as I was educated in Mexico, for us the distinction between “northern/southern” is not always clear, even sometimes as westerners; the settler tradition of England was much more aggressive, specially the continuation of the settlement by the US as it was backed by a racist Anglo-Saxon ideology somewhat based in the Enlightenment that even antagonized romance-speaking countries based on their absolutist traditions: this is noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, and expressed by explorers/military-men such as A. W. Doniphan. This becomes central to the kind of institutions and systems that are dominant today, taking into account that we’re discussing mostly from English-speaking institutions.

      I’ve brought these historical considerations into account since I think some of the compromises brought by these narrow research practices can be tackled by a dialectical exercise between local and western ways of thought, concepts, and methodologies. Some of these considerations have been dived into by authors such as James Clifford, and Donna Haraway with the concept of situated knowledge – which is pleasantly expanded by Kim TallBear, I wonder: what kind of similar developments are going out in other parts of the world? There’s also an extra layer of complexity regarding quantitative methods, as most of our ways to organize data and treating concepts it’s grounded in a western-positivist approach, specially when trying to quantify issues such as land usage, life-quality, or most cultural aspects, as they’re most probably based on vastly contrasting cultural, social, and juridical traditions. Thanks for reading.

  2. Perhaps it is long overdue to move away from artificial dichotomies such as North(ern)/South(ern), East(ern)/West(ern), rich(er)/poor(er), and developing/developed? Much will simply come down to definitions: Who defines “Global South” and “northern”, among other terms, and on what basis are these definitions made?

    1. This debate is relevant, and I believe that the question it poses with regard to the North/South dichotomy is timely and represents an opportunity to open to a variety of related aspects. Based on my direct experience in few African countries, as a volunteer architect and as a researcher, I can say that I encountered enormous difficulties that I relate to the existence of a profound gap between the “Northern” and the “Southern” way of thinking and working. There exist an immense cultural gap, of course, simpy due to a different ways of living which we encounter in every context. But, many prejudices from both sides are dictated by a heavy historical hetitage, that of colonization, that we all still pay for. First of all, I experienced enormous difficulties in communication and planning of projects. According to my experience, these ultimately depended upon the Time factor, its use and perception by both parts, which play a fundamental role in the way projects are implemented, and eventually fail or succeed. Northern ideas are anchored in a Time dimension that does not synchronize with that of the countries where we, the “northerners”, operate. There is also the perennial issue of such a feeling of us of wanting to save people. A paternalistic aspect typical of western people that could, however, better be analysed according to Esther Duflo’s vision (Tanner lectures, May 2012), to first understand ourselves and then go to act in other contexts. Based on these preliminary reflections, and without any further investigation on this subject, I would pose these questions: Are Northern ideas essential to develop and implement projects in the South? Should we just support academics and designers in these regions to develop their own ideas and integrate them in our practices to avoid academic colonialism? Finally, who says that Northern ideas are unfavorably in the Global South, and what makes them so?

      1. But what exactly are “northern” and “southern”? Are these the only two options available and do they always contrast? Finally, why imply “African countries” as being so alike, comparing for instance, Seychelles, Angola, and Tunisia?

      2. I would also add a question of why should “we” interfer at all in other people’s lifes? Would it not be better to leave them in peace and let decide for themselves? Why should the conditions of cooperation always be dicated by “us”? And it does not matter whether it is “us” who is going “there” to do research or it is “us” delegating duties to “them” to do research locally on “our” terms and conditions.

    2. I certainly agree that the world is far more entangled than North and South. I am an Indian based in Australia and my research is situated in Nepal. Does this make me North or South? The funding I receive, my supervisors and my institution are ‘North’, by this definition, but my background and cultural identity is ‘South’. And certainly, being Indian has not made me any more qualified to look at Nepal- or even the precise town that my research is based in.

      The post-disaster research landscape in Nepal, which is its own ecosystem is currently inhabited by a dizzying array of countries, networks and funding agendas, so much so, that I need to maintain a database simply of the different research agendas at place (it is a table that is often out of date). There are so many partnerships that are operating between multiple universities, NGOs and ‘local’ institutions that it is simply unproductive to evaluate them using North/ South.

      Maybe a more interesting/ productive line of inquiry is to look into the setting of research agendas and objectives, who is/ should be responsible? Is research being co-constituted between the researcher and the researched? How much does funding influence outcomes?

      1. Hello Vanicka! The description you made of yourself brought me back to the first years of my research. Unlike you, I’m a Lebanese doing fieldwork in my own country. Due to this, the most common thing I was told in academic circles was that my research was bias! And now, paradoxically, many researchers claim that cases similar to mine should be the norm to follow…

    3. Hi Faten, I face questions regularly on why I am not engaging with an Indian context- someone asked me point-blank ‘aren’t there enough disasters in your own country?’. I find the assumption that I would somehow produce better research working in India to be so problematic, as if I would automatically know more by virtue of nationality.

      1. Especially considering India’s diversity. We always need a balance of researching ourselves, being researched by others, and researching others. Follow your dreams and thank you for your contributions.

    4. Another puzzle that I have always had since I moved to the “Northern” part of the world, where does the former Soviet space belong to? Is it North, South, “poor” North, or neither? I find it has been left out of the debates on the North-South dichotomy. I have also seen the terms such as”First World”, “Second World”, and “Third World” in the hierarchy of humanity. And, of course, the terms such as “developed”, “developing”, and “underdeveloped”…I have been doing research on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and many authors refer to the affected space as “post-communist”, “post-socialist”, “countries in transition”, and the list goes on…

      1. Ekatherina, I have also wondered what the categories of countries in the world respond to?. Depending on the level of income per capita? The human development index? The systems of government? For its geographical position? According to the innovation index?
        Labels that classify, discriminate, rank based on a single indicator.
        After the discussion, can we propose categorizing them according to risk management, or number of timely disasters attended, or perhaps academic research?

      2. Yes, Mercedes, how can we understand disasters on their own right, outside the pre-established categories. If we establish disaster-related categories, not linked to any existing indicators such as income, human development, governance, innovation, geography, and so on, can we be sure that we will not create new power relations? Every category presupposes exclusion of something.

      3. Ekatherina, siempre nos quejamos de que nuestra política científica no estimula la innovación, por más esfuerzos que hagamos. Tampoco nuestras políticas de formación de investigadores. El problema está en que dicha política científica está orientada fundamentalmente a estatificar la ciencia, es decir a importar más paradigmas y/o a consolidarlos en nuestro medio, haciendo caso omiso de las relaciones de poder.Investigadores , que nos encontramos presos bajo el poder de paradigmas que ya están siendo abandonados o han hecho crisis en nuestro lugar de origen, pero que siguen manteniéndose como líneas vivas de investigación o de aplicación práctica.

        “las relaciones de poder se inician en última instancia con el establecimiento de un conjunto de relaciones sociales que, al institucionalizarse, implican niveles de poder; de ella se derivan concepciones de lo legítimo que se transponen a las representaciones culturales del conocimiento y que ejercen el poder de controlar a los métodos de validación epistemológica y social del conocimiento; en la medida en que lo logran se institucionalizan ellas mismas como modelos paradigmáticos del conocimiento científico que obligan a los investigadores a comportarse dentro de un conjunto de parámetros, ejecutando permanentemente actividades rutinarias de ciencia normal e impidiéndoles la innovación y, finalmente, dentro de estos esquemas y de acuerdo con el lugar que ocupan en el conjunto de dichas relaciones sociales, el científico utiliza su propio poder para manipular los descubrimientos, la paternidad de las prioridades, y negociar mecanismos que aseguren sus estrategias cognitivas, su supremacía cultural y la validación y legitimación de sus teorías, etc.”(Emilio Quevedo V.)

        Ekatherina, we always complain that our scientific policy does not stimulate innovation, no matter how much effort we make. Nor are our research training policies. The problem is that this scientific policy is fundamentally aimed at stying science, that is to import more paradigms and/or to consolidate them in our environment, ignoring power relations. Researchers, who are prisoners under the power of paradigms that are already being abandoned or have made crises in our place of origin, but who continue to remain as living lines of research or practical application.

        “power relations ultimately start with the establishment of a set of social relations that, by institutionalizing imply levels of power; her conceptions of legitimate transposed to cultural representations of knowledge and the power to exercise control methods epistemological and social validation of knowledge are derived; to the extent they succeed institutionalized themselves as paradigmatic models of scientific knowledge that force researchers to behave within a set of parameters, permanently running routine activities of normal science and preventing innovation and finally,within these schemes and according to their place in all these social relationships, the scientist uses his own power to manipulate discoveries, the paternity of priorities, and negotiate mechanisms that secure your cognitive strategies, your cultural supremacy and the validation and legitimization of your theories.” (Emilio Quevedo V.)

      4. Muchas gracias Mercedes. Yes, probably the only way to deal with power relations is to make ourselves aware of them – for those who fall “victims” of power relations and those who exrecise privilige through them. When all parties become aware of power hierarchies and when more discussion takes place in public spaces (in any form, oral, written, visual, etc. – this forum is just one example), there might be a chance at least not to fully eradicate these hierarchies, but to minimise the harm they create.

  3. Ilan raises a pertinent point. Today, many of the relationships between countries do not follow the traditional North/South, West/East dichotomies. India provides aid and technical support to countries in Latin America and other countries. South Africa, China, Cuba, Brazil and other countries also have an increasing influence in other “poor nations.” Arab countries have a strong influence in the Middle East and Africa, often dictated by religious (not only economic or political) factors. Many believe that China is today one of the most prolific countries in disaster studies. Mexican architects, engineers, and designers work beyond borders. Chinese and Singapore companies have a strong impact in Vietnam and other Asian nations.

    But can we/should we already discard the influence of traditional colonial influence?

    1. This proposes an interesting framing: colonial compared to…what? Pre-colonial? Provisos remain. First, is it really a dichotomy? For instance, consider post-colonial (see the work of Anthony Carrigan and Kasia Mika) and elites running younger countries who were educated and trained in their now former colonial locations. Second, colonial approaches take multiple forms, whether indigenous elites suppressing others (no society has been a panacea) or the current structure of countries and territories imposing artificial governance structures. Nonetheless, how would the question work as “Is disaster-related research and practice unfavorably guided by colonial ideas?” or would it fall into similar traps as the original question?

    2. The lingua france of academic disaster-related research (and all other research) is English. It is not Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, or Arabic. To write an article in a language other than English would be considered a “local” or “regional” contribution of a researcher. It will not be considered “international” contribution. The only way it can be considered an international contribution, if the article is written in English first and then translated into other languages, including the languge of the place under study. In this way, the power relations are still in favour of Nothern domination. It is true that there is “South-South” cooperation, but the global policies at the UN level are favouring the Northern ideas.

    3. Nation State relations can and are also being resisted through internal politics and vice versa. For instance, while India has indeed invested heavily in post-disaster recovery in other countries, it resisted the very idea of foreign aid being offered to Kerala following the floods last year(it turned out that government officials responded prematurely to unverified claims), which was as much to do with national politics and international ‘image making’- https://www.indiatoday.in/fact-check/story/fact-check-did-uae-offer-rs-700-crore-for-kerala-floods-1322782-2018-08-24.

      Similarly, the city of Bhaktapur in Nepal which famously turned down German aid for reconstruction (https://www.nepalitimes.com/banner/clash-of-cultures-in-bhaktapur/) illustrates how local politics can respond directly to international politics, bypassing the nation entirely. This is not to diminish the continuing influence of past and present colonial regimes, but simply to flag that the ‘poor nation’ is also a construct that can be resisted in different ways.

  4. Great point Ilan. Several disaster studies (including Noemi Klein’s work) have focused on foreign forces coercing, marginalizing, or disregarding “local” people and practices. But coercion, marginalization and disregard have also been enacted by local elites. Forms of domination have always existed within countries and territories. In many cases (Haiti comes to my mind here), disaster capitalism has been imposed by both foreign leaders and local ones.

    Is it still valid to isolate in a separate status North-South colonialism (or Neoliberalism or other forms of foreign domination) in disaster studies and practices?

  5. Another issue of the disaster-related research is funding. Most high-impact research is funded by the Northern funders. The PI may hire “local” assistants to do research on the “Nothern” terms. The training of how to do research is undertaken on the PI conditions, because the PI has to do research of the Northen founders’ terms. And it does not matter how much “local” knowledge the research assistant or any other “local” partners have, the “trophies” for the research results will be received by the PI.

    1. Dear Ekatherina, I’m happy to read your name again in our debate! I agree with most of what you’re saying. However, I wonder and ask everyone in the debate: Are there only negative outcomes from “Northern” approaches? Don’t they, for example, give more visibility to invisible contexts/people? Don’t they help shedding the light on certain situations in order to trigger needed changes?

      1. Dear Faten, I am happy to see you here, too! I enjoy these debates a lot! Yes, you are absolutely right, it is not a “black-and-white” box as it is normally presented, and I have taken an initial critical and negative stand, as this is what first comes to mind. However, I do acknowledge that there are people and organisations from both sides, who can equally contribute and damage the disaster situation. And it differs from one place to another, so it is difficult to set generalisable parameters.

  6. Thank you Ekatherina and Georgia for your comments. The issue of language is certainly important in this debate. But let us not forget that some of the most interesting contributions in disaster studies in the 1980s and 1990s emerged from a Spanish-speaking network called La Red. The contributions of this newtork (later published by scholars such as Anthony Oliver-Smith and Ben Wisner) still have an influence in contemporary scholarship. The question is: Can we consider La Red as a “local” or as an “external” group? Are there other equivalents of La Red in Portuguese, Creole, Arab or Thai?

    1. Yes, Gonzalo, La Red is a very good example! In The Routledge Handbook of Disaster Risk Reduction Including Climate Change Adaptation (edited by Ilan Kelman, Jessica Mercer, JC Gaillard) there are initiatives mentioned such as Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), the Southern Africa Society for Disaster Reduction (SASDiR), Periperi U, and a few others. The question then is how an initiative in a language other than English can become known in other parts of the world? There should be people from the outside involved to appreciate the initiative and then translate it into English. What kind of power relations (or not) can manifest themselves in the process? The local people can translate the initiative themselves, but they need an audience to be heard. Who is going to listen, how, and why?

      1. The dominance of a certain language–and a certain type and style of writing–in academia is concerning and is documented, along with possible approaches to overcome the difficulties:
        1. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2005.00625.x
        2. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.11.016
        3. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0004-0894.2004.00229.x
        Some top journals now publish in multiple languages and I suspect that JC Gaillard, in his comments, will explain what he intends to do with the journal he edits “Disaster Prevention and Management” https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/journals.htm?id=DPM
        Historically, it has always been a problem that the so-called “world elites” or “educated” selected a language–whether Latin, French, English, or others–and focused on it. We must nonetheless keep in mind that these groups still represent(ed) a tiny fraction of people generating and applying knowledge, so no matter how we self-define “world elites”, “educated”, and “academia”, there is much more out there. Even the multiplicity of Chinese journals does not necessarily solve the problem, because not everyone in China is necessarily fully literate in Chinese or would necessarily have access to these journals.
        As per the initiatives noted by others, it becomes our responsibility to reach out and to learn, not to teach and expect everyone to access and read scientific articles, such as the links above for English or for work in Chinese (or other languages). We have identified a problem; we can be the connectors, interpreters, and exchangers for those who cannot.
        (Og er det ironisk at denne diskusjon er bare på engelsk uten andre språk).

      2. Ekatherina, I’m 100% in line with your appreciation. In that order of ideas, I reverse your concern. While English is the language that most people can master, its translation into other languages (Spanish for example) is not common. And resuming the words of the architect Gonzalo, there are terminologies specific to each territory.
        The sphere proyect and Humanitarian standards (1997) although it is not a legally binding document but the subject of a voluntary commitment, we can consult it in different languages. But since each country drafts the necessary adaptations to its risks and disasters, is it relevant to unify it globally?

      3. Ilan, these are important references, many thanks for sharing! I am very curious now about your idea “We have identified a problem; we can be the connectors, interpreters, and exchangers for those who cannot.” – would you mind elaborating? If I understand correctly, it means people who master several languages themselves (their native language, the lingua franca of academia, and the language of the local community under study) have to mobilise all these languages to share knowledge? (Og ja, der er meget ironisk, at vi ikke skrive på norsk eller dansk eller noget helt andet (hviderussisk?), men bare på engelsk…)

      4. Mercedes, this is a very good point! You have made me think about people who are bilingual and have their native language and also colonial language. They probably be best translators…

  7. La Red is certainly a very good example! Its experience has transcended the local-global, Southern-Northern binaries, and has been used in other parts of the world. In The Routledge Handbook of Disaster Risk Reduction Including Climate Change Adaptation (edited by Ilan Kelman, Jessica Mercer, and JC Gaillard) there are initiatives mentioned such as Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (https://www.adrrn.net/), the Southern Africa Society for Disaster Reduction (https://sasdir.org/), Peri Peri U (https://www.riskreductionafrica.org/) and others. However, if there are equivalents of La Red in other languages than English, we might be able to hear of them only when they get attention of external partners who would be eager to participate and translate the information into English. How is this attention and eagerness created, by whom, and through what means remains a good question.

    1. Ekatherina – det er fantastiske at vi kunne diskutere på dette språk, men for nå, tilbake til engelsk for de andre.

      Regarding your query about what to do, I doubt that I could really answer this question in detail due to my own positionality. I think that your suggestion, and those from others in this thread, are excellent and apposite. They are absolutely part of the repertoire which I would draw upon and advocate for. I could also offer from our publications:
      1. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2008.00797.x
      2. https://www.islandstudies.ca/sites/islandstudies.ca/files/ISJ-6-1-2011-Kelman-et-al_0.pdf
      3. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7717.2009.01126.x
      But a specific solution? I doubt that I could provide that and I doubt that a single approach would always suffice. So let’s continue brainstorming to see what people have done, what has worked, and what has not worked, so that we could all continue to learn and exchange.
      Thank you!

      1. Illan, tusind tak for dit svar! Thank you very much for your kind responce, it has made my day! I agree that “one fits all” approach will not be desirable, even harmful in some cases, so we probably need to try different approaches and learn from our mistakes. A particular approach successful at one place might not work at another.

  8. Vanicka raises a pertinent point too. Where do we classify the thusands of scholars (me included) born in developing countries who find themselves doing research and/or working in Northern universities or organisations? are we “South” or “North”? insiders or outsiders? To what extent are our epistemologies and methods determined by Western ideas?

    1. Researchers, as other social categories, are unfortunately placed in labeled boxes. There is a label for the local, another one for the foreigners, one for those who get grants and funds, another for the poorer… and as for other labelled social categories (citizens vs refugees, black vs white, rich vs poor, etc.), we forget the complexity and uniqueness of each human being that prevent this sort of basic categorizations. I repeat what the moderator wrote in his opening remarks: evaluating a research should be based on its conceptual quality and its methodological rigour, not on the label or category that the researcher falls under.

  9. In this case, it might be beneficial to talk about priviliges, instead of North/South divide. Both “Northerners” and “Southerners” can have priviliges in a sense of social capital (language, finance, networks). Then the question would sound something like “Is disaster-related research and practice is unfavorably guided by researcher’s and practitioner’s priviliges?” Or in a postcolonial language, who can speak and act, for whom, how, and why? And who can’t speak and act (who is the subaltern?)? One can find subalterns in both North and South.

    1. Ekatherina, that is a valid point- however I do not know how one avoids deploying their privilege altogether? Perhaps by recognising what affordances (and biases) go along with this privilege? There are several decolonising methodologies for research being experimented with that discuss issues of privilege with respect to ontologies and epistemology- maybe useful to see how they can work for disaster studies?

      1. Thank you Vanicka, I think that we need to learn how to understand our own priviliges and the priviliges of others and use them in an ethical way. Some people are not aware of their privilige, some are very aware and mobilise it stretegically. The strategic mobilisation of privilige links to willful ignorance – conscious rejection to acknowledge inequality in power relations for one’s own benefit. In this way, to acknowledge that I have a privilige would be not to mobilise it strategically in a situation where I could. And this will apply to both international researchers and practitioners working on the ground and local groups of the population who have different access to power. Then the decolonisation would transcend North-South divide. We would need to decolonise the privilige of the international researchers and practitioners going to a different place and the privilige of certain local groups over other local groups (and sometimes over international researchers and practitioners, too). And I absolutely agree that we need a subject on decolonising disaster research and practice. It can even be included in a formal training for everybody (internationals and locals).

  10. Most prestigious scholarships attract crème de la crème from the South to study in the North. After completing their education and gaining practical experience, these graduates cum scholars occupy influential policy positions back home after returning from the North. For example In Pakistan there are few PhD’s in Disaster Studies and many of them are graduates from foreign/western universities. In this way, foreign/western knowledge influences local knowledge and indigenous practices with the former assumed to be superior and the later as tribal and outdated.
    Secondly, the peer reviewed process is an authentic way to ensure originality and substance in research. But most of you would agree with me that the editorial and review boards of prestigious journals are dominated by Northern academicians who influence the papers through their perspectives and discount, may be unintentionally, local perspectives.
    The North also influences in implementation of recovery programs. Notable example is that of the concept of build back better popularized by President Bill Clinton in the aftermath of 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This concept was the guiding principle for reconstruction program initiated after 2005 Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan.
    As famously said, beggars are not choosers. With money comes the influence. The influence of North is mainly driven by two things “SUPREMACY OF KNOWLEDGE” & “FINANCIAL CAPACITY” as demonstrated by large western donors who come to the disaster scenes with readymade programmes of rescue, relief and rehabilitation. The capacity of South to get influenced is driven by socio cultural status of communities, capacity of workforce, institutions and lack of financial resources.

  11. Thank you Duvan, Faten, Muhammad and Ekatherina for your valuable comments. They shed light on important aspects that our panellist must adress next week.

  12. “Power imbalances occur between nations, but also inside countries, neighborhoods and households,” reminds us Duvan. How do these imbalances influence our understanding of disasters and risks?

  13. Strong arguments exist that intrinsically associate power and knowledge. Michel Foucault would affirm that power operates through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and production of ‘truth’. He introduced the concept of “regimes of truth” which are composed by scientific discourses and institutions, constantly reinforced, and redefined through the education system, the media, and the ideologies.

    Is feasible to detect the incidence of discourses in our understanding, without them we cannot explain our opinions , and so on, our decisions would happen under their influence.

    May outstanding operations of nuclear power, hydroelectric power or mining emerge into social validated matrices of opinion, guided by dominant discourses in detriment of minority sources of relevant information oposite to such projects, which denounce, for example, an inaceptable risk condition?. May gender inequality result on differential access to comprehend and control the risk factors in vulnerable households?. Would an exclusive access to certain media channels to allow the inducement of sceptical or denialist positions in front to climate change?

    If any answer to these questions is yes. We can analyse on those examples the incidence of power imbalances in the understanding of risks.

  14. Ahead of time I want to clarify that the position I propose is based on my experience living and being born in South America.
    Before making a proposal of whether “the disaster-related research and practice in the Global South are unfavorably guided by Northern ideas or not”, I consider that these disaster-related matter should emerge from the research that is totally immersed in the daily realities of the affected populations for which solutions are being sought. Precisely because these types of actions are affected by the creativity of the population and their organizations, they have to be very sensitive to the various vulnerable and risky contexts that exist. Therefore, any external intervention should be born out of great respect and knowledge of local efforts in order to identify, analyze and propose appropriate solutions to them.

    If we agree with conviction that a disaster is a social phenomenon first of all, and as a concrete product and of temporarily long frecuency, we would modify the assumption that this field of knowledge studies: “repetitive behaviors and with established patterns” (Dynes 1988: 102), placing it as subject of study of permanent reflection. As long as this doesn’t happen, government policies will not give ground to this discipline, whose objective of study is considered sporadic. Quoting Quarantelli, who suggests replacing the term “event” with the idea of “occasion”, emphasizing the notion of opportunity for something to happen and not as an end result.

  15. Thank you Mercedes, Ekatherina, Vanicka and Duvan for your latest comments. The panelists’ openning remarks are now online. Have they influenced your ideas? How? They have changed mine. But I will leave that to the end of the debate 😉

    1. I am glad about having, from the very authorized voice of Prof. Gaillard, an acknowledgment of the epistemic roots in the problem of colonialism, and beyond pointing to ontology. His references to etymology are very telling and illustrative of the problem.

      He remarked the existence of other epistemologies “as rigorous and meaningful as those inherited from the Enlightenment”, but those have resulted overwhelmed for being kind of “less fashionable”. Furthermore, he acknowledges the instauration of a global normative agenda materialized in standardized practices that filters people realities with a reductive perspective. This hegemony, he concludes, goes in detriment of desirable people ́s participation.

      Carmen also remarks this challenge of “real participation” in disaster-related research and practices, when she remarks the local community involvement as the “most important requirement”, and pleads for knowledge co-creation as a major challenge, and horizontal learning as a goal. I like the way she inserts into the debate the complexity, the sense of place and the emergence of autonomy as a desirable dynamic into a process of disaster management, but I believe that she actually confirms, not discards, the incidence of power relations in disaster-related knowledge and practice.

      Ilan Kelman goes beyond in my opinion. When he acknowledges the existence of world elites (with multiscalar expressions), he acknowledges the existence of factual barriers instaurated into the communities of knowledge that avoid representativeness and so, hinder knowledge co-creation or horizontal learning.

      Does La Red belongs to such world elites with exclusive access to knowledge or influence on decision-makers?, I think that yes. Can we consider La Red as a “local” or as an “external” group? ( as Gonzalo asked), I ́d say that it depends. A situation can occur where a researcher or practitioner will take concepts or methodologies from la Red to liberate people from oppression and to protect their “internal “interests. Also, the situation may occur where somebody, on behalf of these same concepts, will manipulate the public interest to address some external interest.

      My point is that the knowledge objectivity doesn´t exist. So it ́s “colonial power” will, in fact, really depends on the centricity or eccentricity of the interests that are served.

      In my opinion, in mandatory to overcome this north-south colonialism, understood as the service, provided by knowledge and practice, to the reproduction of capital and power. The approaches should then move, somehow, in the direction suggested by Ilan Kelman, when demanding the integration of the educated elites to serve as the connectors, interpreters, and exchangers for those who cannot. Listeners and spreaders of those without a voice. In other words, servers for less visible or underrepresented interests (and corresponding epistemologies), for more democratical resolution of disaster-related conflicts.

      1. It’s wonderful reading you Duvan. But your words, as well those of other participants make me question our own approach in the debate: Are we, educated elites, actually serving as connectors? Even in this debate, in which the main concern is shifting towards the opacity of Western ontologies and epistemologies in disaster studies, we communicate in English and adopt the same “colonial” and paternalistic approaches we are by all means criticizing. By doing so, we are preventing “those without a voice” to actually have a say in a discussion that is supposed to be shedding the light on injustices we claim they suffer from!

      2. Thank-you Faten for your comment. I am convinced about the relevance of those many connectors and catalyst required to set more fair and realistic processes of knowledge co-production and social change in front of complex environmental conflicts. Even being such relevant in any space (like this forum) in order to amplify the social dialog, where I feel a strategical demand for them is in the specific contexts of implementation. There is where several political and economical agendas addressed may disrupt and generate opportunities for social justice or revictimization

        Tensions between hegemony and heterogeneity result evident In such contexts where redistribution of resources, accommodation on the space, and balances of power are at stake. There is where the voices from heterogeneity require to be amplified for not become reduced into the “noise of the projects”. That should occur, in my opinion, not only because of the fair benefit, and wellbeing of such underrepresented or underestimated interests, but also, because, in the end, that wide inclusion is what can make any solution a long-term sustainable process

      3. Duvan, I adhere to the use of the “underestimated interests” term.We often use certain pejorative words, even in this debate that label and involve associating terms with imaginary collectives pre-established in societies, which are hardly modifiable.
        Faten, about his concern for our paternalistic colonial positions of those who have no voice, I invite those of us in academic environment to submit the moderation and abandon the arrogance that often obscures us.

  16. Prof. JC Gaillard makes a compelling argument regarding the problems of etymology which I definitely agree with. It extends far beyond the terminologies for disaster and vulnerability. For instance the term reconstruction and its Nepali, Hindi and Sanskrit translations (not to mention Newari and other local dialects) have different implications and represent different ontologies. Some of the South Asian terminologies (very loosely) translate it as ‘re-born’, ‘re-develop better’, ‘renew’ which puts the entire approach towards reconstruction as something that does not quite fit agreed upon disaster terminology.
    As someone who has participated in enough ‘toolbox’ and ‘assessment framework’ exercises, I also recognise the normative frameworks that dictate such endeavors and agree that far more plurality is required in order to even describe the field.
    My only rejoinder is that while it is definitely true that there is a western hegemony at work with respect to disaster research, there are other internalised/ local hegemonies as well that are often at play. Inequality persists at every rung of the research ladder- whether it is in the setting of the research agendas and funding right down to deciding who is represented and how. So decolonising research would then need to go beyond challenging ‘western/ northern’ practice and respond to local constructs as well.

  17. What do disaster, vulnerability, reconstruction, resilience, capacities, and adaptation mean in other languages and cultures? Wonders J.C and other participants. But differences in definitions apply to all fields (health, construction, law, etc.) and all moments in history. They also exist within countries and local dialects. What is particularly dangerous in these differences in the disaster field? Is this really a matter of differences between the North and the South? Or, again, is this “simply” a difference between those with power and those without it?

    1. The discussion on decolonising research is certainly not limited to disaster studies, it is being taken up across social sciences and humanities for some time now. I do think the reason why it may hold specific kind of danger is because research, policy and funding/aid are very intricately linked in disaster studies, with one informing the other in a much shorter feedback loop as opposed to many other disciplines where the chasm between academia and practice is larger.

      There is definitely a ‘northern’ bias, in research, no matter the discipline/ area of study, but it is being resisted and overcome in many formats. However it is possibly only one of several power differentials at play in conducting (any) research.

  18. When in 2010, a powerful earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haitians called it the “Goudougoudou,” a creole term with a provocative sexual twist. Had reconstruction been different if foreigners had taken more time to understand the meaning of the local term?

    1. Possibly you understood the meaning of the term “Goudougoudou,” you would have provided better solutions for the island of Haiti. But is this knowledge relevant as a first temporary accommodation response to an emergency situation? Or is it relevant for further reconstruction?
      I understand that in the wake of the disaster in 2010, Port-au-Prince functioned as an “experimental laboratory”, where architects skilled in the issue of emergency housing, carried out their solutions.
      But who better to answer this concern than our moderator, whom was involved in the time this issue took place.
      To conclude my commentary , I would like to quote the popular haitian expresion “Blanc fet yon kay tout bagay net” this translates to “The white guy (referring to the foreigners) has built us a house with all the things needed”. It´s more than clear that it sayd in a sarcastic way.

  19. Yes, Mercedes. Our research in Haiti indeed proves that many foreigners used the reconstruction process as an “experimental lab.” Many of them did not take the time to understand local practices, needs, expectations, culture, history, meanings, and values. This applies to both those who acted in immediate response/recovery and those who got involved in reconstruction efforts. Many Haitians I have talked to since 2010 (understandably) resent the foreigners who acted irresponsibly.

    But how, and to what extent, were these mistakes, omissions and overlooks caused by Northern/Western epistemologies and concepts or simply by negligence, ignorance, and corruption? As a matter of fact, several local elites also used recovery and reconstruction as an “experimental lab,” and made similar mistakes, omissions and overlooks—with almost equal disregard of, say, the informal sector, vernacular construction, traditional solutions, and informal urban practices.

  20. While I agree with the architect Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo in her opponent’s opening remarks, I find no data or reliable facts that defend the dissenting stance.
    Facing the Global South there would be a Global North, so both definitions would add to the already traditional North-South differentiation—or “developed” countries vs. “underdeveloped” or “developing” countries, alluding to a geographical position that lends itself to confusion as there are impoverished countries in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa, the indisputatable fact that the two regions are forged amid important processes of globalization (Cairo Carou and Bringel, 2010) .
    I inhabit the Colombian land and every day I see greater relevance in the reconstructions after natural or anthropogenic disasters, of the cultural habits and customs of the Colombian population. The reconstruction of Pres -Constitution in Chile (2010) in charge of the study “Elementary”, example of the autonomy of the countries of the South, in the face of northern capitalism.

    Gonzalo, while I did not answer your questions (very accurate and difficult to answer), sometimes we must break paradigms, or collective imaginaries in the face of certain positions. And could the examples cited give the first stitch of this seam to be spun.

  21. Thank you for your replies, Mercedes and Vanicka. There is no doubt that forms of domination exist in disaster studies/practices. But several social scientists from the North have highlighted the value of local forms of resistance and vernacular forms of living and coping with risk. Many have championed the cause of social justice in the South. So are “colonial thinking, frameworks and practices” a matter of birthplace or a matter of attitude and research rigour?

    1. For centuries, the voice « colony » had no pejorative endowment and retained the meanings that the Romans had given to the Latin word. Colonizing was, above all, population: a migration and a foundation that did not involve the domination of one people over another, but the taking of possession of a territory. Indeed, it was from the end of the 17th century that « colony » began to take on an economic significance that passed from French to the English and Spanish languages during the eighteenth century. In any case, and here is the central point, then and well into the nineteenth century, « colony » and « colonial » had no ideological content. Its meaning was not negative, nor unequivocal. It was accepted that the creation of colonies responded to numerous reasons that were not primarily economic, and could be political, religious or military.(1)
      In the 21st century, I wonder if globalization will not be the MONSTER that haunts us? The decline of state sovereignty, the culture of globalization, regional integration, social apathy, neoliberalism and globalization ….
      (1)https://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/437

    2. I would say both are at play to some degree. In order to be taken seriously in research circles- getting published means considerations of language, positionality, referring to global (often this means west/north) academics and thinkers and concepts becomes inevitable. Most widely referred to post-colonial/ sub-altern literature is written by Southern authors trained in the north and in English!

      Even the idea of what qualifies as social justice is not universal, at least in research terms. So while attitude and research rigour definitely address some of these imbalances, this assumes the researcher is in charge. Which is certainly not the case, with research funding and agendas set at different tiers. So a ‘decolonising’ researcher can still be entangled in ‘colonial’ research frameworks and institutions.

      1. I have a coincidence with Vanicka about the structural functioning of colonialism or decolonialism. None of those can be attributed to a specific individual but to social processes where they become inserted to operate.

        I just can’t imagine a researcher or practitioner championing a social justice cause without become inserted and committed, previously, into the social process to be defend. Is that a matter of attitude?, could be, but again, it will not only depend on the individual. It evidences the political character of disaster’s management. Political affairs like representativity or legitimacy are in the core of this discussion, as they are in any process of disaster’s management

  22. There are two separate things in the Argument, Research and Practice. Yes to some extent research takes a front seat in guiding, but practice evolves from the context and the site scenario though some strategies could be adopted. Looking at the global scenario, Disasters cannot be compartmentalized within the physical boundaries of a country at least not at this stage. Hence referring to or adapting to the work done globally cannot be argued as ‘guided’ by.

  23. This is very much true. The imported concept of disaster risk and methodology designed mostly by the North is being practiced in south. Most of the donor agencies supporting Disaster risk and resilience building are considering that the conceptional and operational framework, tools and methodology developed are the best to be implemented. The local partners or implementing agencies having no capacity to cope with the western approaches and concept unable to implement with the true spirit, competency and functioning. The gap between the indigenous knowledge and practice, and the western approaches remained a challenge to cope with resilience building.

  24. Now the surprise: The opening remarks of our 9th online debate are now available in Spanish, French, English and Arab. A matter of coherence with the subject. Just in case: disaster-related research/practice in the South must never be unfavorably guided by Northern ideas.

  25. Gonzalo, for future debates (or even this one, if possible) at least one African and one Asian idiom should also be included, given that many actions are intended for these regions. This would make these debates actually accessible to a large share of western and non-western experts.

  26. It seems to me that JC assumes that ontologies, epistemologies and frameworks that become popular in the North (and later in the South) are solely created in the North. But do we evidence of this? Were “vulnerability,” “adaptation,” or “resilience” ideas crated in a Northern vacuum? I think that there is enough evidence, for instance, that vulnerability theorists were deeply “contaminated” (enriched) my Marxist thinkers from the South. Is it that simple to determine the “nationality” of ideas?

    1. Gonzalo, más que nacionalidad de ideas, me identifico con la identidad de ideas.
      Las personas tenemos valores, creencias, ideologías, cada uno tiene una forma de pensar, influenciada más o menos por el país en el que residimos, y sobre todo tenemos experiencias, que van conformando nuestro ser. Y eso sí forma nuestra identidad, nuestra esencia.

      Gonzalo, more than nationality of ideas, I identify with the identity of ideas.
      People have values, beliefs, ideologies, everyone has a way of thinking, influenced more or less by the country in which we reside, and above all we have experiences, that are shaping our being. And that does form our identity, our essence.

  27. I really enjoyed reading the rebuttal remarks, they triggered lots of reflections. I will start with JC Gaillard’s comments. I find the two suggested concepts – “intellectual submission” and “coincidence of interests” – very productive in thinking about unequal power relations. They show that everyone benefits, no matter on which side of the power relations (more privileged, less privileged) one is. Both Western researchers (project leader) and local collaborators (research partner) exercise their agency within the available them structural possibilities. Inequality remains, because some exercise more agency than others. By having everyone implicated in the current postcolonial system that we live in, it becomes extremely difficult to break it down.

    Turning to Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo’s remarks, I appreciate her reference to “accountability and trust”. Trust “sunk” into my head in particular. Trust can be formed by becoming familiar and respecting certain rules of behavior. Trust is built when everyone follows the rules. In a disaster situation, it becomes extremely difficult to have order and familiarity where trust can flourish. That is because rules (and discipline) are taken over by chaos and there is no time to establish familiarity because everyone should act quickly. That is probably why control overtakes.

    Now, to connect the two reflections, how can we build trust, even in disaster situations, and whether trust can be a way to “cure” intellectual submission and coincidence of interests?

    1. Es indudable que en situaciones de emergencia debe esperarse un incremento de reacciones emocionales intensas. Una de ellas, el miedo ha sido utilizado políticamente para someter y hacer cumplir las órdenes que tanto hombres como gobiernos han deseado; utilizar el miedo en pos de objetivos ha sido una acción históricamente efectiva y por ello ha tenido su participación en cantidad de organismos sociales.

      Por lo anterior, conocer las reacciones del ser humano sirve como un indicador lógico para generar relaciones con los efectos ante una situación de desastre.
      En el caso del Huracán Mitch, la mayoría de los sobrevivientes fueron tratados -por el gobierno y las agencias- como víctimas, creando una segunda victimización y un sentimiento de dependencia con relación a las instituciones. También los prestadores de servicios se vieron sobrepasados e impotentes ante la situación. El modelo que funcionó positivamente fue el de implicar a la comunidad en su propio proceso de recuperación con proyectos de siembra y construcción.

      Acerca de la observación de Ekatherina de generar confianza, cito un párrafo del estudio “Riesgos y catastrofes, actitudes y conductas en lasociedad española” CIS
      LA CONFIANZA COMO CEMENTO SOCIAL : Cuando los sujetos se encuentran en una situación de catástrofe, la viven como una violenta ruptura de la vida cotidiana y sus sólidas expectativas inmediatas, que requiere referencias y actuaciones de confianza. Necesitan reordenar el mundo y restablecerse en la realidad a partir de distintas fuentes de confianza. Tales fuentes han de formar parte de las percepciones de los individuos, de sus creencias y sentimientos.
      La confianza es la conexión con el mundo general o con una parte del mundo, que permite seguir conectado con él. En el escenario de una catástrofe, el concepto de conexión con el mundo adquiere uno de sus sentidos más extensos e intensos. Se trata de momentos de amplia incertidumbre y ansiedad en los que se desata la necesidad de confiar en alguien o algo para así reducir o calmar ambas dimensiones subjetivas

      English
      There is no doubt that in emergency situations an increase in intense emotional reactions should be expected. One of them, fear has been used politically to subdue and enforce orders that both men and governments have wanted; using fear for goals has been historically effective and has therefore had its participation in the number of social agencies.

      Therefore, knowing the reactions of the human being serves as a logical indicator to generate relationships with the effects in the face of a disaster situation.
      In the case of Hurricane Mitch, most survivors were treated – by the government and agencies – as victims, creating a second victimization and a sense of dependence on institutions. Service providers were also overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the situation. The model that worked positively was to involve the community in its own recovery process with planting and construction projects.
      On Ekatherina’s observation to build trust, I quote a paragraph from the study “Riesgos y catastrofes, actitudes y conductas en lasociedad española” CIS
      TRUST AS SOCIAL CEMENT: When subjects find themselves in a situation of catastrophe, they experience it as a violent breakdown of daily life and their strong immediate expectations, which requires references and confident actions. They need to reorder the world and re-establish themselves in reality from different sources of trust. Such sources must be part of the perceptions of individuals, their beliefs and feelings.
      Trust is the connection with the general world or with a part of the world, which allows you to stay connected to it. In the event of a catastrophe, the concept of connection with the world acquires one of its most extensive and intense senses. These are moments of broad uncertainty and anxiety when the need to trust someone or something is unleashed in order to reduce or soothe both subjective dimensions

    2. I would insist that south /north polarities cannot be seen, in my opinion, from a nationalistic perspective, but more in reference to the global concentration of power, wealth, control, sovereignty; and global distribution of social and environmental costs/ impacts of development.

      The supremacy of the American Dollar as the currency for trade could be a good example. Even having wealthy people worldwide in India, South America, Russia or China, the commercial transactions that they accomplish, their level of consumption, the chains of value that they participate in, all will always transfer certain benefit to a center of power, in this case, the Federal Reserve. The autonomy of their power is constrained by this centrality of power, which conditions their operability.

      I can´t imagine any post-disaster intervention just escaping from this logics of accumulation of value, at least without an explicit determination to redistribute the means of production and democratize such, all along the process of recovery.

      Again an example could be useful. A loan granted to a local authority for resettlement guarantees a fixed rate of return that is centralized. Where is moved population? let´s suppose to a safer space, an urban expansion area purchased with the purpose of the project. Who´s the former owner of that land? what happened with the land price after such area become declared for urban land-use? who got the surplus value? what happened with the land market when capital inflows from such loan result meaningful with respect to the local economy? who are the contractors founded for the building process? who will make the urban infrastructure? Who provide materials and technology? what happened with the local commerce? it migrates from neighborhood shops to large stores and malls with franchises and supermarkets? Who will provide electricity, water, food, transportation to new urban developments? what type of chains of value emerge from this urban investments?

      What would be the role of trust along this entire process? would it be reinforced? trust in what? in malls, in contractors, in new infrastructure, in the water company? Very good social professionals could probably make this process happen, I mean, build up this kind of trust. But the chains for the generation of value will be maintained centralized, the supposed beneficiaries will be transformed in consumers, that is colonialism or neocolonialism. Could it work? probably yes. But I think that in the long term it would be only sustainable if we distribute the means of production. Only in this way we can insert into the equation the whole creative potential of the people? their sense of ownership over their own life, the entrepreneurship in order to foster projects of life, what is the truly human development. Trust that in internal, at the personal level, the level of organizity and cohesion of community.

  28. I think both JC Gaillard and Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo do agree on the point of there being a ‘centre/ core’ and a ‘periphery’ in disaster research. I would like to point out that in addition to the centre-periphery debate being driven by ideas of North/South (global politics), or even as is being discussed in detail here local politics, there is the centre/ periphery of disciplinary antecedents that disaster research has yet to overcome. For instance the inclusion of concerns regarding culture is relatively recent in disaster research. To me, these two concerns appear to be linked.

  29. Thank you Duvan, Vanicka, Ekatherina and Mercedes for your latest insights. Duvan raises a very pertinent point: the commodification of housing, land, water, services, etc. that often follows after disasters. But Duvan: Is commodification proof of the influence of Northern ideas or “simply” of capitalist ideas? this leads me back to my main concern since the begining of this debate: where do we draw the line between “Northern” ideas and simply “wrong” ideas?

    1. Rereading the title of this debate, I remarked on the term “Global South” and would like to comment on it. The development of the term highlights the uncomfortable reality of the above terms. Most of the educated generally see the term “GlobalSouth” more favorable than its precursors “third world” or “developing countries.” The term is perhaps more suited to “resist hegemonic forces that threaten the autonomy and development of these countries.
      Themajority of the global South population lives north of Ecuador in the geographical north. Thus, the term feels much less appropriate in Asia than in discussions focused on Africa or Latin America. Thesetudiose argue that the term should not be understood geographically, “connotes an image of the world divided by Ecuador, separating richer countries from their poorest counterparts.” For Alvaro Mendez, the geography of the global South must be more easily understood as economic and migratory, the world understoodto be gone through the broader context of globalization or global capitalism. Understandingthe global South in these terms shows that “most people in the so-called global South actually live in the Northern Hemisphere.
      As global leaders in the south have become more energetic in world politics, South-South cooperation has increased to “challenge the political and economic dominance of theNorth.” Countries that use this model of South-South cooperation see cooperation as a mutual charitable relationship that extends knowledge to address their development challenges in natural disasters.

      1. Maybe this is a better traduction, excuse me.

        Rereading the title of this debate, I remarked on the term “Global South” and would like to comment on it. The development of the term highlights the uncomfortable reality of the above terms. Most of the educated generally see the term “Global South” more favorable than its precursors “third world” or “developing countries.” The term is perhaps more suited to “resist hegemonic forces that threaten the autonomy and development of these countries.
        Most of the global South’s population lives north of Ecuador in the geographical north. Thus, the term feels much less appropriate in Asia than in discussions focused on Africa or Latin America. These scholars argue that the term should not be understood geographically, “connotes an image of the world divided by Ecuador, separating richer countries from their poorest counterparts.” For Alvaro Mendez, the geography of the global South must be more easily understood as economic and migratory, the world understood through the broader context of globalization or global capitalism. Beginning to understand the global South in these terms shows that “most people in the so-called global South actually live in the Northern Hemisphere.
        As global leaders in the south have become more energetic in world politics, South-South cooperation has increased to “challenge the political and economic dominance of the North.” Countries that use this model of South-South cooperation see cooperation as a mutual charitable relationship that extends knowledge to address their development challenges in natural disasters.

    2. I would recognize that the dangerousness of ideas in disaster research and practice is not necessarily caused by their alien origin. I acknowledge the importance of valuable insights coming from Northern intellectuals and practitioners with positive incidence in disaster management. Colombia has some very good examples of that as Gonzalo has remarked.

      On the other hand, disasters, by definition, cannot be isolated from external influence. For their very nature, disasters imply an overwhelming of the system capacities, so the demand for external support. The disasters open systems for reorganization. But, if we recognize disasters as the materialization of risks into the system, then we accept that disasters put on evidence the internal vulnerabilities of it; we should also recognize vulnerabilities as a historical construction. Then it implies matters of justice, unattended asymmetries that are reflected in the space, and evolve into disasters. How much justice is driven through the post-disaster process? What is the role of capitalist, neoliberal, colonialism and global North in the whole thing?

      The dangerousness first arises, in my opinion, when disasters serve alien interests to have revenues in detriment of justice. I would say, responding to Gonzalo, that from this perspective capitalist and neoliberal approaches to disasters result hardly adequate. The invisible hand is not able to address the whole matters of justice that disasters imply. Probably disasters could be windows to experiment and develop, in concrete contexts, another type of economic relationship.

      North ideas are not probably the matter, but North interests and agendas yes, and they are driven through ideas at the end. I am again in my first comment, my awareness would not be for the origin of the ideas but the origin of the interests that those serve.

  30. The information described in the paper “Research trends of post disaster reconstruction: The past and the future” written by H. Yi and J. Yang in 2014 will be used to develop my argument. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that using this data has the shortcoming that it is not up to date.

    Yi and Yang used a the Scopes search engine in a three-round literature review to define the 194 journal papers related to PDR that they used for their analysis. One of their findings claims that 75 papers (34.7%) were written in the USA by 67 scholars from 40 research centers. In addition, the analysis defines that institutes from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Australia and China covered 85% of the publications. Finally, it claims that Asia contributed 47% of the case studies followed by America, Europe and Oceania. These numbers put in evidence how research efforts in developing countries of Asia and South America are lagging behind and how the reality of Africa has been hardly covered. As a result, it shows the need for these regions to catch up with the necessary expertise and tools to mitigate the effects of disasters with local insights.

    Therefore, in my opinion, disaster-related research and practice in the Global South is indeed guided by Northern ideas. This could be linked to the limited resources and means in developing countries to produce and spread the same amount of information that is created in other places, generating the need to rely in existing theories. However, I don’t see this as an unfavorable situation; on the contrary, I believe that acknowledging this reality gives us the opportunity to confront it with the creation of knowledge sharing platforms and networks between Global North institutions with Global South entities in order to achieve global welfare with local adaptations.

  31. I find my name in Yi and Yang (2014)’s article. I am classified as a researcher from the North. But am I? More importantly, aren’t our frameworks, epistemologies, ontologies and methodologies influenced by knowledge, practices and ideas from the South? A god example of South-to-North influence is “social urbanism,” an approach developed in Medellin, Colombia, that has had an enourmous influence in scholars in the North. How do we understand these two-way influences?

  32. I believe there are maybe other examples of South-to-North influence that we are overlooking in this debate: The capability approach, largely developed by Amartya Sen? The micro-credit movement largely advanced by Muhammad Yunus? The land theory developed by (the always controversial) Hernando de Soto? The social-ecological movement largely diffused by Chico Mendes in Latin America? The post-crisis reconciliation approach developed by Desmond Tutu in South Africa? Others? If we want to stop injustices, shouldn’t we also focus on the influence that the South has had in the North? Maybe this is in itself a way of countering colonialism…

  33. Once again, I find myself not fully convinced by either side of the debates; which is perhaps not a bad thing. On the whole I am closer to Prof. JC Gaillard’s position though I maintain some divergence from his discussion.

    First to unpack JC Gaillard’s proposals-
    “Research on disaster should focus on whatever is needed and deemed relevant locally.”. There are two issues with this, I think. The first is the assumption that the local exists as independent from the global, as opposed to them existing and interacting with each other all the time. The second assumption is that there exists a cohesive ‘local’ which Is less prone to inequality, corruption and power dynamics. This is not to deny that ‘the local’ exists ,but that to imagine local as a panacea to the global recreates the very kind of structural systems that are being argued against.

    “Local grounding requires local ontologies and epistemologies so that studies be framed from the most relevant perspective(s).” Who decides which perspectives are ‘relevant’? If there is no negotiation possible between ontological difference, then a different kind of academic impasse may be reached.

    “We should ultimately support local researchers, who know best local contexts and who are likely to be familiar with local ontologies and epistemologies. They should take the lead to study local disasters.” This statement itself does an ‘othering’ of sorts, it presents the ‘local’ researcher as free from global influence and as a benign non-political actor.

    Of course, I do agree with the argument which calls for a post/decolonial approach to disaster studies. That is definitely a direction that is generative and useful- however that direction also challenges traditional ideas of intellectual fields of study and disciplines- so disaster studies as it is conceived would also be up for a similar kind of reconfiguring if we were to follow that thought. I think that may be a worthwhile exercise- for instance how does one study disasters without understanding climate change issues? And how does one look at climate change without understanding it globally and locally simultaneously? And yet, we continue to have disaster ‘experts’ and climate change ‘experts’ enacting out new politics of expertise.

    Looking at Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo’s closing remarks
    “Therefore, in countries where resources are limited and where policy, planning and delivery mechanisms are weak, we must support people and their culture providing them with the resources to make better choices, as well as support their advocacy efforts for laws and planning codes that protect them.” This goes back to the normative ideas of ‘better’. Who decides what ‘better’ is and how does one implement laws and planning codes internationally without creating new system dependencies, and neo-colonial relationships? This goes back to the previous year’s debate on foreign aid and funding.

    “reconstruction projects must build on a change of perspective achieved by understanding situated social and physical strengths and dynamics as the key ethical approach to design in the humanitarian field”. . This imagines a universal model of ethics, which once again is deeply problematic because ethics are fed by ontology and epistemology as well.

    The argument that global systems need to be more sensitive to local ideas through social and cultural sensitivity does not challenge the status quo enough in my view.

  34. I would like to thank everyone for insightful and constructive comments! It’s been a great debate that has definitely helped me further my thinking on these issues. Please feel free to email me should you wish to continue discussing any of the points we have been debating here.

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