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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  October 2017  /  Improving disaster studies and responses

Improving disaster studies and responses

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s keynote address at ODI Disasters Conference

Improving disaster studies and responses

On 14 September, Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh delivered a keynote address at the ODI Disasters Conference, held in London to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of its journal, Disasters.

Elena reviewed key approaches that have enhanced contemporary Disasters Studies and, despite remaining challenges, have helped improve disaster responses around the world.

She argued that research has demonstrated the need to look back, through historical analyses; look around, through geographically sensitive perspectives, attentive to scale, space and Southern-led responses; and through different viewpoints, including intersectionalist and interdisciplinary research.

Such approaches underpin Elena’s current AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project. Her research into local and Southern-led responses to displacement in the Middle East and North Africa shows the need, in responding to mass disasters, to acknowledge the intersection of individual and community identities, on the one hand, and structures of inequality, on the other.

She outlined three key themes central to Disasters Studies in the 21st Century:

1)    Future migration patterns (including in the context of climate change).

2)    Conflict-induced, forced displacement.

3)    Southern-led responses to disasters.

Four under-researched dynamics underpin these themes:

  1. Immobility (which Elena has written about here),
  2. Refugee-refugee relationality (see here),
  3. The overlapping nature of displacement (here),
  4. The potential of ‘South-South Cooperation’ (see here)

Elena concluded by questioning how research, policy and practice in disaster and displacement situations may be advanced in ways that acknowledge, but also transcend, the ‘experiences’, ‘voices’ and ‘perceptions’ of people affected by displacement.

While the agency of people vulnerable to disasters must remain key to improving operational responses, it may also be time to engage directly with affected individuals and communities, as agents who themselves conceptualise, negotiate and may resist the responses habitually developed and implemented by others on their behalf.

A video of Elena’s keynote is on the Refugee Hosts website here.

See also:


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Elena speaking at the conference


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