Panel 10 – Inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters

Conveners: Sara Bondesson (Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Swedish Defence University, and Centre for Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS)) and Frederike Albrecht (Department of Government and Department for Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, and Centre for Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS))

Abstract: In light of increasingly devastating natural hazards affecting societies marked by gendered, racial and economic inequalities, this panel convenes research on inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters. Structural inequalities based on gender, age, able-bodiedness, ethnicity, sexuality or economic status are generally connected with uneven distribution of risks in relation to natural hazards such as storms, floods or earthquakes. Already marginalized groups are often unequally affected. Scholars have focused mostly on gendered effects of disasters, but apart from such research, this panel also seeks to explore a few interconnected topics. The panel invites scholars who make use of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches. We welcome research that integrates intersectional theory into disaster studies to learn more about how different types of marginalization interconnect in disaster contexts. Researchers focusing on how norms of masculinity operate in disaster situations are also welcome. Empirical studies on shifts and changes in gender roles in the aftermath of disasters are moreover of interest. We further invite discursive readings of underlying gendered assumptions or other conceptual logics that mark the fields of disaster management, disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation. By discussing on-going research on these understudied topics, the panel will gather critical insights about urgent issues of inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters.

Long Abstract:In light of increasingly devastating natural hazards affecting societies marked by gendered, racial and economic inequalities, this panel convenes research on inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters. Structural inequalities based on gender, age, able-bodiedness, ethnicity, sexuality or economic status are generally connected with uneven distribution of risks in relation to natural hazards such as storms, floods or earthquakes. Already marginalized groups are often unequally affected. Yet social inequality and disasters are intertwined in complex ways. While social inequality produces heightened vulnerability for some groups, disasters often fuel further reproduction of social inequality. However, some research instead points to how disasters sometimes function as opportunities for transformation of power imbalances.

So far, scholars have focused mostly on gendered effects of disasters, and this growing body of research provides important knowledge for anyone interested in disaster related inequalities and structurally differentiated vulnerability. Apart from such research, this panel also seeks to explore a few interconnected, yet understudied topics. The panel invites scholars who make use of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches to study issues of inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters.

Firstly, by integrating intersectional theory into research on disasters, scholars may explore how different types of marginalization interconnect in disaster contexts. Secondly, research that critically reflects on discursively dominant assumptions about women’s vulnerability is needed. Such research may for example problematize how categories of men and women are constituted in dualistic, stereotyping manners, which in turn renders non-binary communities invisible in disaster management and risk reduction. Furthermore, research that explores the discursive boundaries of the policy fields of for example Disaster Risk Reduction or Climate Change Adaptation will be included. These policy fields are often grounded in apolitical techno-managerial narratives and further research would provide insights into whether and how this limit the thinkable range of possible political solutions to disaster inequalities. Finally, scholarship on men and masculinities has put attention on how norms of masculinity operate in disaster ridden societies, yet more research on this topic is warranted. Such research may also be linked to empirical studies on shifts and changes in gender roles in the aftermath of disasters. By discussing on-going research on these understudied topics, the panel will gather critical insights about urgent issues of inequality, vulnerability and intersectionality in relation to disasters.