chapter  4
15 Pages

Complexity and Diversity: Unlocking Social Domains of Disaster Response

ByDorothea Hilhorst

This chapter introduces a way of looking at disaster response through the study of science, governance and local knowledge as social domains of knowledge and action.1 Social domains are areas of social life such as family, community and market whose study allows one to understand how social ordering works. The chapter starts from the premise that disaster studies during the last decade have increasingly been overtaken by a paradigm that accords central importance to mutuality and complexity in the relations between nature and society. While welcoming this shift, I am concerned about the ‘system-thinking’ remnant in much of complexity theory. It denies agency and diversity, and puts unwarranted boundaries around people and phenomena. Instead of conceptualizing science, governance and local responses as separate and different sub-systems of society, the study of social domains allows us to focus upon the everyday practices and movements of actors who negotiate the conditions and effects of vulnerability and disaster.