chapter  7
Principles ignored and lessons unlearned: a disaster studies perspective on the tsunami experience in Sri Lanka
Pages 20

Disasters often function as a magnifying glass, mercilessly revealing societal ills and weaknesses. In this chapter I discuss the tsunami experience in Sri Lanka by reflecting on it from the perspective of Disaster Studies. Disaster Studies is a multi-disciplinary thematic field of inquiry that tries to explain why and how disasters occur, and how societies deal with them. I shall consider some major recent academic insights and policy trends in Disaster Studies and indicate to what degree they have been relevant to, and were applied in the aftermath of, the tsunami in Sri Lanka. I base my discussion mainly on the contributions made by the social sciences to Disaster Studies, by what sometimes has been called the “anthropology of disaster.” I personally believe that a social science perspective has much to offer and indeed can add something valuable to the perhaps all-too-technocratic and top-down approach that characterized disaster studies earlier, when the field was typically referred to as “disaster management.” Though my discussion will be mainly based on secondary sources, I shall use illustrations from empirical fieldwork done after the tsunami in Sri Lanka to underline the issues raised (see: Frerks 2008; Frerks and Klem 2005a, 2005b, 2005c and 2006).