Logo Logo
Help
Contact
Switch language to German
Dynamic climates of memory: environmental learning, risk perception, and remembering and forgetting disasters
Dynamic climates of memory: environmental learning, risk perception, and remembering and forgetting disasters
Aim of the Project Research in geography has contributed immensely to vulnerability thinking and disaster discourse. However, despite plenty of knowledge and experience in dealing with disasters, institutions often fail to address the deep-rooted vulnerabilities, and people continue to remain at risk. Scholars have developed Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) frameworks to translate knowledge into actionable strategies, offering systematic approaches to decision-making. Although these frameworks have been refined over the years and are effective, they remain limited in examining the role of memories and narratives in reinstating vulnerabilities, restraining learning, and mediating risk perception. This project aims to understand the making and unmaking of disaster narratives, and processes of remembering and forgetting and their role in influencing risk perceptions and learning. An emphasis on narratives, in context, will reveal the work that they perform in making and un-making policies for DRR. Approach In this interdisciplinary project, I utilise the political ecology framework to investigate the Bhuj earthquake (2001) and Machhu flood (1979) in Gujarat, India. These cases motivated differing levels of institutional learning and ways of remembering and forgetting. They offer opportunities to examine - (1) the role of narratives/storylines in understanding risk perceptions and learning, (2) different ways of remembering and forgetting, and (3) memories and narratives in terms of DRR. These cases are not merely “events” but “disasters with biographies.” They are collections of narratives and memorials for remembering (and forgetting). So, I treat them as “events in narratives”, and my case studies are case studies of narratives assembled around the events. Methodology I conducted fieldwork in Kutch and Morbi districts of Gujarat, India. My data comprises personal narratives (collected through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions), publications from governmental and non-governmental organisations (e.g., policy documents, project reports, and census data), and media archives. The core of the data is collected from government officers, disaster management experts, non-governmental organisations, community leaders, disaster-affected people, and beneficiaries of state schemes. I interpreted the data within a framework that relates narratives, memories, risk perception, and learning to disaster experience. It is transcribed, coded, and analysed using MAXQDA 12 software. Findiings and Discussion Bhuj Earthquake (2001) In the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake, the main stakeholders in disaster reconstruction – governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, village-level committees, and local media – contributed to transmitting disaster memories and narrative construction. The state and media were key actors in constructing powerful narratives. Four narratives were particularly prevalent in disaster’s aftermath. 1. Naturalness of the disaster 2. Corruption, exclusion, and demand for a separate State of Kutch 3. Narrative of Kutch’s resilience against disasters 4. Developed, modern, and safer Kutch These storylines were influential in mediating perceptions, policies, and decisions. In particular, the notions of Kutch’s resilience, development, modernisation, and safety were instrumental in setting the tone for the earthquake’s memory. As a result, it is remembered as a case of successful reconstruction, best practices, and learning in India’s disaster discourse. However, such framings overlook the root-causes (socio-economic and political factors) responsible for the unequal distribution of risk and vulnerability in society and prove counter-productive to the principles of Disaster Risk Reduction. Using polymorphy of socio-spatiality – territory, place, scale, and network – I examine people’s vulnerabilities and present evidence to contest the dominant storylines. The counter-narratives demonstrate: 1. Dominant narratives of resilience eclipsed the actual vulnerability of marginalised groups. 2. Relocation and reorganisation of living spaces that characterised the notions of developed and safer Kutch added to people’s vulnerabilities by reinstating struggle over resources, disrupting social networks, and creating a financial burden. 3. The risk-sharing mechanisms and modern infrastructure added to the perceptions of resilience and safety. However, they were unsustainable and have exposed people to future disaster risks. 4. The industrialisation that showcased economic revival of Kutch has contributed to the vulnerability of marginalised groups by impacting the environment and local livelihoods. Also, the industry has created social vulnerabilities as observed through conflicts between migrants and locals. Counter-narratives reveal that in the dominant narratives of resilience, development, modernisation, and safer Kutch, experiences of several vulnerable groups were overlooked. The DRR programmes were limited in addressing social vulnerabilities. In addition, the storylines of their success masked these actual vulnerabilities furthering people towards disaster risks. I have examined these narratives (and counter-narratives) in relation to the disaster’s memory. At the community level, there are fewer memorials, and people claim to have forgotten the quake. The example of Kutchi textile printing and embroidery shows people’s attempt to forget the disaster actively. The narratives depicted through textiles present people’s disaster experiences, and their imaginations of the place, past, and hope for the future. Despite such attempts, the memories are embedded in daily conversations, songs, habits, and personal stories. They are further manifested through memory sites (e.g., religious shrine and communal graves) that have become part of everyday life. The sites are crucial in sustaining social networks, invoking stories, and learning through their emotional significance, proximity to communities, and embeddedness in routine life. These are essential aspects of addressing disaster risks. The sites show that memories of the earthquake remain contested for some while others embrace the responses to the quake (e.g., new housing). Nevertheless, the narratives reflect the people’s personal experiences, and they are mediated at the community level. The analysis of state memorials – Smriti Van and Baal Veer Bhoomi – against the backdrop of community mediated memory sites indicates that official memorials attempt to reinstate the narratives of resilience, development, and safer Kutch. An in-depth examination of their components shows the symbolic gestures of “representing and including” Kutchi people in the memorial process and attempts of forgetting the earthquake victims as “victims” but remembering them as “martyrs.” The storylines presented by official memorials are difficult to contest, and they offer little space for negotiation. The findings suggest that glorifying the intervention efforts without addressing the root causes of risk and vulnerabilities adds to a false sense of resilience and prove counter-productive to the efforts of the DRR. In the process of fixing memories and dominant narratives, they silence counter-narratives and further the conditions of vulnerability. Machhu Flood (1979) Machhu flood was caused by a dam failure in Morbi (Gujarat, India). Due to its controversial nature, the disaster lacks institutional memory and is a highly under researched case. A prevalent perception suggests that people do not remember the deluge anymore. People put forward five fundamental causes of fading flood memories – lack of physical memorials, commemorative walk losing popularity, eroding oral traditions, a massive influx of outsiders, and immorality. The social and cultural landscape of Morbi changed drastically after the flood, and the city transformed from a heritage town to an industrial one. People associate the loss of heritage with the erosion of identity, loss of sense of place, depleting social cohesion, and forgetting the flood. Findings suggest that memories have survived through myths and moral tales linked with the flood. They are used to come to terms with the disaster and risks related to the dam. Furthermore, these memories and attached deep-rooted anxieties re-emerge in different forms such as videos, pictures, and rumours during monsoons. I present the case of the 2017 flood during which the rumours of dam break started circulating in Morbi. It created widespread panic and chaotic evacuation from the city. The analysis contributes a new outlook towards understanding people’s risk perception through myths, moral tales, and rumours. They provide a rich knowledge source into people’s relationship to the place and events in the past. Sustaining them horizontally (between governmental institutions, (social) media, and communities) through two-way communication is critical. In contrast to a widely held opinion in disaster management circles that rumours are agents of chaos, my analysis stresses its utility as a point of intervention. Building on the premise of sustaining flood memories, rumours can then be used to address misconceptions regarding flood and dam related risks and build trust with the people. Effectiveness of general flood awareness programmes is debatable. Such initiatives often assume that people are passive consumers of information. Research shows that people actively engage with knowledge production through social (media), articles, movies, and several such forms. The governmental institutions need to recognise this engagement and utilise it for improving communication. Research Contribution This thesis highlights the contradictory, unintended, contending effects of narratives circulating after disasters as vital to any effort to develop risk reduction. It calls for a sophisticated understanding of remembering and forgetting, the circuits within which they are relayed, and for policy attention to these effects. 1. Acknowledgement of counter-narratives for examining vulnerability: Counter- narratives offer a more nuanced understanding of people’s vulnerabilities, which are eclipsed by dominant narratives of successful DRR. The analysis of counter- narratives reveals deep-rooted factors contributing to everyday vulnerabilities. How narratives and counter-narratives are constructed and experienced provides insights through which DRR programmes can be strengthened. Overlooking the counter-narratives runs the risk of reinstating the pre-disaster vulnerabilities and creating new vulnerabilities. 2. Role of memory sites and storylines in remembering and forgetting disasters: There is a stark difference between the storylines of community mediated memory sites and official memorials. The memory sites provide a glimpse into people’s disaster experience and ways of remembering and forgetting disasters. The official memorials offer little space for contested narratives. Fixing memories and narratives through official commemorations further conceal the actual vulnerabilities and prove counter-productive to the principle of DRR. 3. Recognising rumours as a reflection of people’s risk perception: The research offers a new outlook to acknowledge myths, moral tales, and rumours as a reflection of people's risk perception. They can then be utilised as a point of intervention to address misconceptions regarding flood and dam related risks and build trust between people and governmental institutions. In conclusion, disaster memories and narratives are continually making and un-making each other. Prominent narratives of disaster risk reduction set the tone for disaster discourse and how disasters are remembered. These narratives can create or expand the conditions of vulnerability furthering disaster risk. The processes of remembering and forgetting through the community’s memory sites, official memorials, and storylines can profoundly impact people’s risk perception, learning, social cohesion, and resilience. It is imperative to recognise the value of narratives, memories, and investigate them in relations with people’s vulnerabilities, risk perceptions, and ways of learning to strengthen DRR frameworks.
Not available
Lakhani, Vikas
2021
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Lakhani, Vikas (2021): Dynamic climates of memory: environmental learning, risk perception, and remembering and forgetting disasters. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Geosciences
[img]
Preview
PDF
Lakhani_Vikas.pdf

5MB

Abstract

Aim of the Project Research in geography has contributed immensely to vulnerability thinking and disaster discourse. However, despite plenty of knowledge and experience in dealing with disasters, institutions often fail to address the deep-rooted vulnerabilities, and people continue to remain at risk. Scholars have developed Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) frameworks to translate knowledge into actionable strategies, offering systematic approaches to decision-making. Although these frameworks have been refined over the years and are effective, they remain limited in examining the role of memories and narratives in reinstating vulnerabilities, restraining learning, and mediating risk perception. This project aims to understand the making and unmaking of disaster narratives, and processes of remembering and forgetting and their role in influencing risk perceptions and learning. An emphasis on narratives, in context, will reveal the work that they perform in making and un-making policies for DRR. Approach In this interdisciplinary project, I utilise the political ecology framework to investigate the Bhuj earthquake (2001) and Machhu flood (1979) in Gujarat, India. These cases motivated differing levels of institutional learning and ways of remembering and forgetting. They offer opportunities to examine - (1) the role of narratives/storylines in understanding risk perceptions and learning, (2) different ways of remembering and forgetting, and (3) memories and narratives in terms of DRR. These cases are not merely “events” but “disasters with biographies.” They are collections of narratives and memorials for remembering (and forgetting). So, I treat them as “events in narratives”, and my case studies are case studies of narratives assembled around the events. Methodology I conducted fieldwork in Kutch and Morbi districts of Gujarat, India. My data comprises personal narratives (collected through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions), publications from governmental and non-governmental organisations (e.g., policy documents, project reports, and census data), and media archives. The core of the data is collected from government officers, disaster management experts, non-governmental organisations, community leaders, disaster-affected people, and beneficiaries of state schemes. I interpreted the data within a framework that relates narratives, memories, risk perception, and learning to disaster experience. It is transcribed, coded, and analysed using MAXQDA 12 software. Findiings and Discussion Bhuj Earthquake (2001) In the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake, the main stakeholders in disaster reconstruction – governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, village-level committees, and local media – contributed to transmitting disaster memories and narrative construction. The state and media were key actors in constructing powerful narratives. Four narratives were particularly prevalent in disaster’s aftermath. 1. Naturalness of the disaster 2. Corruption, exclusion, and demand for a separate State of Kutch 3. Narrative of Kutch’s resilience against disasters 4. Developed, modern, and safer Kutch These storylines were influential in mediating perceptions, policies, and decisions. In particular, the notions of Kutch’s resilience, development, modernisation, and safety were instrumental in setting the tone for the earthquake’s memory. As a result, it is remembered as a case of successful reconstruction, best practices, and learning in India’s disaster discourse. However, such framings overlook the root-causes (socio-economic and political factors) responsible for the unequal distribution of risk and vulnerability in society and prove counter-productive to the principles of Disaster Risk Reduction. Using polymorphy of socio-spatiality – territory, place, scale, and network – I examine people’s vulnerabilities and present evidence to contest the dominant storylines. The counter-narratives demonstrate: 1. Dominant narratives of resilience eclipsed the actual vulnerability of marginalised groups. 2. Relocation and reorganisation of living spaces that characterised the notions of developed and safer Kutch added to people’s vulnerabilities by reinstating struggle over resources, disrupting social networks, and creating a financial burden. 3. The risk-sharing mechanisms and modern infrastructure added to the perceptions of resilience and safety. However, they were unsustainable and have exposed people to future disaster risks. 4. The industrialisation that showcased economic revival of Kutch has contributed to the vulnerability of marginalised groups by impacting the environment and local livelihoods. Also, the industry has created social vulnerabilities as observed through conflicts between migrants and locals. Counter-narratives reveal that in the dominant narratives of resilience, development, modernisation, and safer Kutch, experiences of several vulnerable groups were overlooked. The DRR programmes were limited in addressing social vulnerabilities. In addition, the storylines of their success masked these actual vulnerabilities furthering people towards disaster risks. I have examined these narratives (and counter-narratives) in relation to the disaster’s memory. At the community level, there are fewer memorials, and people claim to have forgotten the quake. The example of Kutchi textile printing and embroidery shows people’s attempt to forget the disaster actively. The narratives depicted through textiles present people’s disaster experiences, and their imaginations of the place, past, and hope for the future. Despite such attempts, the memories are embedded in daily conversations, songs, habits, and personal stories. They are further manifested through memory sites (e.g., religious shrine and communal graves) that have become part of everyday life. The sites are crucial in sustaining social networks, invoking stories, and learning through their emotional significance, proximity to communities, and embeddedness in routine life. These are essential aspects of addressing disaster risks. The sites show that memories of the earthquake remain contested for some while others embrace the responses to the quake (e.g., new housing). Nevertheless, the narratives reflect the people’s personal experiences, and they are mediated at the community level. The analysis of state memorials – Smriti Van and Baal Veer Bhoomi – against the backdrop of community mediated memory sites indicates that official memorials attempt to reinstate the narratives of resilience, development, and safer Kutch. An in-depth examination of their components shows the symbolic gestures of “representing and including” Kutchi people in the memorial process and attempts of forgetting the earthquake victims as “victims” but remembering them as “martyrs.” The storylines presented by official memorials are difficult to contest, and they offer little space for negotiation. The findings suggest that glorifying the intervention efforts without addressing the root causes of risk and vulnerabilities adds to a false sense of resilience and prove counter-productive to the efforts of the DRR. In the process of fixing memories and dominant narratives, they silence counter-narratives and further the conditions of vulnerability. Machhu Flood (1979) Machhu flood was caused by a dam failure in Morbi (Gujarat, India). Due to its controversial nature, the disaster lacks institutional memory and is a highly under researched case. A prevalent perception suggests that people do not remember the deluge anymore. People put forward five fundamental causes of fading flood memories – lack of physical memorials, commemorative walk losing popularity, eroding oral traditions, a massive influx of outsiders, and immorality. The social and cultural landscape of Morbi changed drastically after the flood, and the city transformed from a heritage town to an industrial one. People associate the loss of heritage with the erosion of identity, loss of sense of place, depleting social cohesion, and forgetting the flood. Findings suggest that memories have survived through myths and moral tales linked with the flood. They are used to come to terms with the disaster and risks related to the dam. Furthermore, these memories and attached deep-rooted anxieties re-emerge in different forms such as videos, pictures, and rumours during monsoons. I present the case of the 2017 flood during which the rumours of dam break started circulating in Morbi. It created widespread panic and chaotic evacuation from the city. The analysis contributes a new outlook towards understanding people’s risk perception through myths, moral tales, and rumours. They provide a rich knowledge source into people’s relationship to the place and events in the past. Sustaining them horizontally (between governmental institutions, (social) media, and communities) through two-way communication is critical. In contrast to a widely held opinion in disaster management circles that rumours are agents of chaos, my analysis stresses its utility as a point of intervention. Building on the premise of sustaining flood memories, rumours can then be used to address misconceptions regarding flood and dam related risks and build trust with the people. Effectiveness of general flood awareness programmes is debatable. Such initiatives often assume that people are passive consumers of information. Research shows that people actively engage with knowledge production through social (media), articles, movies, and several such forms. The governmental institutions need to recognise this engagement and utilise it for improving communication. Research Contribution This thesis highlights the contradictory, unintended, contending effects of narratives circulating after disasters as vital to any effort to develop risk reduction. It calls for a sophisticated understanding of remembering and forgetting, the circuits within which they are relayed, and for policy attention to these effects. 1. Acknowledgement of counter-narratives for examining vulnerability: Counter- narratives offer a more nuanced understanding of people’s vulnerabilities, which are eclipsed by dominant narratives of successful DRR. The analysis of counter- narratives reveals deep-rooted factors contributing to everyday vulnerabilities. How narratives and counter-narratives are constructed and experienced provides insights through which DRR programmes can be strengthened. Overlooking the counter-narratives runs the risk of reinstating the pre-disaster vulnerabilities and creating new vulnerabilities. 2. Role of memory sites and storylines in remembering and forgetting disasters: There is a stark difference between the storylines of community mediated memory sites and official memorials. The memory sites provide a glimpse into people’s disaster experience and ways of remembering and forgetting disasters. The official memorials offer little space for contested narratives. Fixing memories and narratives through official commemorations further conceal the actual vulnerabilities and prove counter-productive to the principle of DRR. 3. Recognising rumours as a reflection of people’s risk perception: The research offers a new outlook to acknowledge myths, moral tales, and rumours as a reflection of people's risk perception. They can then be utilised as a point of intervention to address misconceptions regarding flood and dam related risks and build trust between people and governmental institutions. In conclusion, disaster memories and narratives are continually making and un-making each other. Prominent narratives of disaster risk reduction set the tone for disaster discourse and how disasters are remembered. These narratives can create or expand the conditions of vulnerability furthering disaster risk. The processes of remembering and forgetting through the community’s memory sites, official memorials, and storylines can profoundly impact people’s risk perception, learning, social cohesion, and resilience. It is imperative to recognise the value of narratives, memories, and investigate them in relations with people’s vulnerabilities, risk perceptions, and ways of learning to strengthen DRR frameworks.