Varieties of Vulnerability Thinking: A (Dis)Orientation to the Anthropology of Disasters

A.J. Faas

San Jose State University

Date & Time
Building 3, Rambo Auditorium
Sara McBride

In this talk, I make an intervention into how we think about disaster by introducing anthropological insights into the topic. Drawing on case material from my longitudinal study of post-disaster resettlement and recovery in the Ecuadorian highlands, I want to take us beyond thinking of events and hazards to consider the processes that cause disastrous outcomes, how they are put in motion long before any geophysical or hydrometerological shock is registered; and focus on how things truly become disastrous as a result of social, political, and economic processes often quite removed from a given hazard. Since the 1990s, the term “vulnerability” has been adopted in disaster policy and practice with important distinctions.

On the way to a 21st century anthropological approach, I’d like to walk us through three models of vulnerability thinking in the case of the Mt. Tungurahua disasters, displacement, and resettlements in Ecuador. I’ll begin with two that are common in policy and practice—what have come to be referred to as the “hazard centric” and “lack of resources” models—and then transition to telling the story from a contemporary anthropological approach built largely from a line of thinking that is commonly referred to as political ecology. Finally, I introduce varieties of cooperation among and between communities and agencies working toward recovery, reconstruction, and risk reduction and discuss how vulnerability thinking affects our work in these areas.

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Video Podcast