Panel 20 – Matters of scale in the making, understanding and analysing disasters and crises

Conveners: Susann Baez Ullberg (Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University) and Maria Rusca (Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University)

Abstract: Scholars are often confronted with diverse modes and practices of scale making in studying disasters and crises, no matter if these are conceptualised as events, processes or both. Social actors rely upon different scales to organize, interpret, orient, and act in their worlds: these are not given but made in multiple modes. In analysing such practices, scholars also employ scale as an organising methodological concept. We want to consider how these scaling practices are enacted in at least three dimensions of application; spatial, temporal and demographic. We invite papers that engage with scale conceptually, empirically and methodologically.

Long Abstract:This session aims at exploring the ways in which disasters and crises are discursively and materially produced via different scaling practices. By bringing togetherdifferent scientific perspectives we want to examine the differences and similarities in how we engage with and analyse these enactments and what the ontological, epistemological and methodological premises are. Scholars are often confronted with diverse modes and practices of scale making in studying disasters and crises, no matter if they are conceptualised as events, processes or both. Social actors rely upon different scales to organize, interpret, orient, and act in their worlds: these are not given but made in multiple modes (Carr & Lempert, 2016; Colligne, 1999). In analysing such practices, scholars also employ scale as an organising methodological concept. We want to consider how these scaling practices are enacted in at least three dimensions of application: spatial, temporal and demographic. The spatial dimension is evidenced when questions of risk, vulnerability and resilience are framed by local and global experts according to a normative division into ‘local’, ‘regional’, ‘national’, ‘transnational’ and ‘global’ or contested and renegotiated in the production of uneven disaster landscapes (Marston, 2014; Swyngendouw, 2003; Colligne, 1999). The temporal dimensions account for both tempo and timing, from anticipating future risks and mitigating slow onset disaster, to operating during emergencies and engaging in the often-ignored long-term temporal aspects of the production of vulnerabilities and hazards and post-disaster recovery. Finally, the demographic dimension, which relates to both time and space, plays out the tension between individual and collective needs in addressing disasters. Even when operating on a relatively local scale, international emergency operations tend to focus on ‘population’ overlooking local political and social dynamics that create social differentiation of aid and ignoring individual coping capacities. By avoiding taking for granted global forces and local places; short-term events and long-term processes; or collective needs and individual capacities, this session questions the stability of the concept of scale and scaling practices. It focuses on scaling itself as the object of discussing disasters and crises as to avoid ‘scale blindness’ (Bird-David, 2017).

We invite panellists who through their theoretical and empirical work can contribute to the above debates, by examining topics that may include, but are not limited to, the following questions: How are scales of disaster and crises management set and by whom? Through what scaling practices are disasters materially and discursively produced and managed? What does it mean and to whom to say that a crisis is transnational, national, regional or local? What are the scalar factors driving disaster risk accumulation and uneven exposure to risk? In which ways do different actors change and navigate their contexts of action and endow their concerns with different levels of significance? What are the material and political channels that enable or hinder scaling processes? What methodologies are productive to investigate the role of scaling practicesin the production and uneven distribution of disasters?  How do scholars themselves engage in processes of scaling while assembling and navigating their fields of research? How do we ‘scale-up’ disaster and crises studies to influence scaling practices?

References

Bird-David, 2017. Before nation: Scale-blind anthropology and foragers’ worlds of relatives. Current Anthropology 58(2): 209–226.

Carr, E. Summerson, and Michael Lempert. 2016. Scale: discourse and dimensions of social life. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Collinge, C.J., 1999. Self-organization of society by scale. Environment & Planning D: Society & Space, 17 (5): 557–574.

Leitner, H. 2004. “The politics of scale and networks of spatial connectivity: Transnational interurban networks and the rescaling of political governance in Europe.” In Sheppard, E. and McMaster, R.B. (Eds), Scale and geographic inquiry, pp. 236-255. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Marston, A.J. 2014. The scale of informality: Community-run water systems in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia. Water Alternatives7(1): 72–88.

Swyngedouw, E. and Heynen, N.C., 2003. Urban political ecology, justice and the politics of scale. Antipode, 35(5): 898–918.