Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazards in the Philippines

By Greg Bankoff | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: Hazard as a frequent life experience

For those who can expect to experience repeated disasters in both their personal lives and in the histories of their communities, the concept of hazard as a distinct phenomenon is often not a very meaningful one. There is no very clear separation between it, environmental degradation, poverty, marginalisation, disempowerment and disentitlement. As Arturo Escobar so forcefully reminds us, organic life originates and is maintained through a perpetual interchange with its environment: ‘The formation of an organism and the environment are one and the same. People develop in a nexus of relations with the environment and with other persons’ (1999:10). Hazard is not an isolated event but is an integral feature of the very fabric of life for millions, if not billions of people. It is, in fact, a frequent life experience, the awareness of which is always present at a level just below that of consciousness and that can be summoned swiftly to the surface at the slightest provocation. After all, it was simply the tales of the scarred and burnt survivors from the 1888 and 1897 eruptions of Mount Mayon that produced such panic among the residents of Libog during the volcanic activity of 1928 (AMO Box-13, 8). And just as peasants may possess ‘local models’ of land, economy and production that are significantly different from ‘modern’ ones and that exist chiefly only in practice (Gudeman and Rivera 1990:14), so there may be parallel schemas in which the concept of hazard only denotes a degree of risk within a continuum of those that beset everyday life and whose manifestations may baffle western social scientists determined to fit all human existence into a single uniform framework.

The importance of the physical environment in determining behaviour has already been noted. Thus John Berry constructs an entire conceptual framework based on the premise that ecological forces are the prime movers and shapers of culture, that ecological variables ‘constrain, pressure and nurture cultural forms, which in turn shape behaviour’ (Segal et al. 1990:18). 1 Of course, the extent to which recurrent environmental forces are accorded significance in determining aspects of people’s behaviour is fraught with conceptual and definitional problems and is simply ‘unprovable’ in the final event. However, the degree to which the frequency and magnitude of natural hazard may be responsible for influencing certain characteristic features of


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