chapter  2
12 Pages

The Historical Geography of Disaster: ‘Vulnerability’ and ‘Local in Western Discourse

ByKnowledge’ Greg Bankoff

It is not always immediately evident that when an extreme event is called a disaster, both speaker and audience are invoking a particular set of culturally determined principles used to evaluate what is or has taken place. Quite apart from being a physical phenomenon, whether natural or human-induced, the criteria used in classifying a hazard as a disaster are also a form of discourse that implicitly make certain statements about what constitutes threat and normalcy. This lack of awareness is perhaps only more apparent when it comes to discussing people’s resilience in the face of such occurrences, and their ability to deal with what has happened utilizing their own physical and psychological assets. These resources are usually referred to as a community’s local knowledge and are expressed in terms of its coping practices. As in the case of disasters, though, they also form part of a parallel discursive framework that shares many of the norms and values inherent in that of disasters. Both are influential in determining the way in which such events are regarded and how they are embedded in the whole literature of disaster prevention, preparation and mitigation.