Panel 2 – Displacement: Examining the complexities of an escalating and vexing social dilemma

Conveners: Susanna Hoffman (Chief, Commission on Risk and Disaster, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences), Andrew Littlejohn (Leiden University), and Irena L. I. Connon (Dundee University), Alex Greer (State University of New York at Albany) and Sherri Brokopp Binder (BrokoppBinder Research & Consulting)

Abstract: The scale of people displaced by calamity, climate, and development around the world in recent years has grown exponentially. In 2017 alone the number was 44,000 people every day, or one person every two seconds, with a total of 68.5 million, the largest number for the fifth year in a row. Forty percent of them were displaced internally within their own country; sixty to other lands. Forty percent came from developing countries; a surprising sixty percent from the first world. The phenomena has caused great stress not only to the people themselves but to the societies to which they have migrated. Considering the increasingly dismaying “nature” of global circumstances, the numbers and scale will only grow. This panel aims to explore the intricacies of loss and displacement as experienced by those displaced and why resettlement often proves so difficult.

The first part of the panel focuses on understanding the complexity of displacement through an anthropological lens. While a great deal has been written about the privations and dispossession of people exiled by various causes from their homes and prior lives and why their resettlement often proves difficult, generally the bereavement and intransigence suffered by those displaced has been treated as if singular in constitution. In actuality, a number of distinct facets make up its disposition. Incorporated are at least three vectors of enduring pain and bewilderment: past, home, and place. All of them combine to make adaptation, or lack of it, to new circumstance vexing. While all the threads that make up the despair are personally endured, they also take shape from the aura and structures set by the culture and society of origin. Covered will be loss of cultural and physical surroundings, quotidian habit and sphere, legacy and expectation, and perceptual ambiance. While a people’s past is implicated, so are the present and the future.

Understanding the complexities of displacement is also fundamental for development of equitable relocation and resettlement processes. The latter part of this panel expands on the discussion of displacement by examining organized retreat as a strategy for reducing disaster exposure and losses. Organized retreat presents an opportunity for governments to permanently eliminate hazard exposure in an equitable, mutually beneficial way. However, relocations have historically been associated with a suite of negative consequences for affected households, communities, governments, and lands. To ensure that future relocation projects minimize harm and maximize potential benefits to communities, it important to develop new research-informed policies and practice that reliably reduce hazard vulnerability and deliver timely and equitable assistance to communities and governments.

Long Abstract: The scale of people displaced by calamity, climate, and development around the world in recent years has grown exponentially. In 2017 alone the number was 44,000 people every day, or one person every two seconds, with a total of 68.5 million, the largest number for the fifth year in a row. Forty percent of them were displaced internally within their own country; sixty to other lands. Forty percent came from developing countries; a surprising sixty percent from the first world. The phenomena has caused great stress not only to the people themselves but to the societies to which they have migrated. Considering the increasingly dismaying “nature” of global circumstances, the numbers and scale will only grow.

This panel aims to explore the intricacies of loss and displacement as experienced by those displaced and why resettlement often proves so difficult. While a great deal has been written about the privations and dispossession of people exiled by various causes from their homes and prior lives and why their resettlement often proves difficult, generally the bereavement and intransigence suffered by those displaced has been treated as if singular in constitution. In actuality, a number of distinct facets make up its disposition. Incorporated are at least three vectors of enduring pain and bewilderment: past, home, and place. All of them combine to make adaptation, or lack of it, to new circumstance vexing. Examined will be the fact that while all the threads that make up the despair are personally endured, they also take shape from the aura and structures set by the culture and society of origin. Covered will be loss of cultural and physical surroundings, quotidian habit and sphere, legacy and expectation, and perceptual ambience. Also possibly discussed will be the ramifications of “landless” resettlement in the upheaval of once rural peoples, the duel or more temporalities the displaced live in, the costs of entire communities relocating, and weighs the notion of risk and risk reduction in light of the pain of displacement. While a people’s past is implicated, so are the present and the future. Pertinent to the issue are coping, adaptation, and sustainability, and the strategies and obstacles to them. In order to examine the impacts of displacement and increasing resettlement, the panel crosses over and is open to a number of what are usually treated as diverse concerns: disaster survivors, the increasing number of climate exiles, conflict refugees, and groups forcibly extracted from their milieus for other reasons. It is further open to both theoretical approaches and particular or ethnographic case studies and also to social science, physical or natural science, and practitioner concerns.

In addition, the panel also welcomes papers examining the issues, challenges, and opportunities of post-disaster relocation and resettlement processes. While organized retreat and related relocation efforts may seem like a straightforward method of reducing disaster exposure and losses, empirical research in this area remains limited. The relocation of residents out of hazardous areas has historically been plagued with challenges for affected households, communities, and governments. Households and communities affected by relocation efforts have been found to experience a suite of losses, including disruptions to social networks, negative health impacts, and economic losses. Further, such relocations raise complex questions related to the management and use of newly created open space. To ensure that future relocation projects benefit communities, it important to develop new research-informed policies and practice that reliably reduce hazard vulnerability and deliver timely and equitable assistance to communities and governments.