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Volume 21, No. 2. (August 2003)

Articles by:

Greg Bankoff, “Vulnerability as a Measure of Change in Society,” pp. 50–30.

Assessing risk and evaluating crises—be they financial, social, political or environmental—have come increasingly to preoccupy the interests and concerns of analysts around the globe.  In developed countries or what until recently was usually referred to as the First World, such considerations involve the reconceptualization of postindustrial societies as ones in which the rise of “manufactured uncertainties” have undermined the state’s established safety systems and its conventional calculus of security (Giddens 1991).  Yet to the billions of humanity who continue to live in less developed countries of the Third and Fourth Worlds and whose peoples still have faith in the benefits of development or have seen that promise come and go in a single lifetime, these finer considerations of risk seem less important.  The threats posed by dumping industrial wastes, unsafe chemical production and the pollution of air and water, though real and graphically manifest on occasion, often pale in comparison to the daily risks posed by natural hazards and human-induced calamities that recent decades have only intensified.  Rather than the “risk society” proposed by Ulrich Beck and others (1992), it is the need to understand the historical evolution of vulnerability and the degree to which different social classes are differently placed at risk that require more urgent consideration for most communities (Susman et a. 1983).  (AA)

Marisa Olivo Ensor, “Disaster Evangelism: Religion as a Catalyst for Change in Post-Mitch Honduras,” pp. 31–50.


Although religion clearly plays an important role in framing the way people interpret and cope with disasters, religion is virtually absent in policy debates and disaster reconstruction planning.  Researchers have also tended to neglect the role of religion as a source of emotional and social support, and a vehicle of community building and group and individual identity for affected populations.  This paper examines the connection between postdisaster resettlement and reconstruction, and the changing religious beliefs and practices of the women and men of Morolico, a town in southern Honduras swept away by the floods of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998.  In Morolico, rates of conversion to Evangalism increased after the disastetr, as several Evangelical missions collaborated with the local population on the reconstruction of their community.  My data indicate that women and men had different reasons for being attracted to Evangalism, and that conversion entailed a transformation of the social norms and proper behavior that was different for each gender.  Furthermore, these conversions can be understood as gendered survival tactics in a context of dislocation and catastrophic loss.  Given the multiple and complex processes taking place in post-Mitch Honduras in general, and Morolico in particular, I suggest that survival strategies and religious conversions are gender-differentiated, and need to be explored within a framework of shifting political ecological conditions, religious pluralism, and displacement.  (AA)


Jacqueline Homan, “Writing Disaster: Autobiography as a Methodology in Disaster Research,” pp. 51–80.


Research in social science has increasingly moved towards emphasis on egalitarian relationships in the research process, attempting to explore and break down the traditional divide between “researcher” and “researched.”  With this more reciprocal relationship comes acknowledgement of positionality, intersubjectivity and the need for the “researched” to gain a substantial voice in the research process.  In this paper, autobiography is explored as a possible method through which those affected by disasters might be empowered with a research process that is traditionally replete with power imbalances.  Such personal accounts of disaster, which draw upon the experiences of the author as the defining characteristic, are not recent developments in disaster research.  This paper explores the roles of personal accounts through the letters of Pliny the Younger, as well as the key role of autobiographical data in Islamic environmental histories.  The Mass-Observation Archives, held at the University of Sussex in the UK, is used as an example of the scope and limitations of this research method in contemporary disaster research.  It is concluded that, in some contexts, autobiographical research has significant potential in enabling those exposed to disaster to have a greater input into the ways their perceptions are recorded, thereby allowing them to have ownership of the research process per se, as well as the practical response to it, for example culturally sensitive mitigation strategies.  (AA)



Feedback from the Field:

T. Joseph Scanlon, “Observations on the August 2003 Power Blackout,” pp. 81–88.


Film Review by:

Simon A. Bennett, review of the British Broadcasting (BBC) Channel 2 documentary series Crowded Skies, pp. 89–93.


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