Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Agency, Affect, and the Immunological Politics of Disaster Resilience

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Agency, Affect, and the Immunological Politics of Disaster Resilience

Article excerpt

Abstract. Resilience has become a foundational component within disaster management policy frameworks concerned with building 'cultures of safety' among vulnerable populations. These attempts at social engineering are justified through a discourse of agency and empowerment, in which resilience programming is said to enable marginalized groups to become self-sufficient and manage their own vulnerabilities. This paper seeks to destabilize this political imaginary through a critical analysis of participatory disaster resilience programming in Jamaica. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with Jamaica's national disaster management agency, I argue that resilience operates through an affective economy of fear, hope, and confidence that enacts an immunitary biopolitics. The object of this biopolitics is excess adaptive capacity that results from affective relations between participants and their socioecological milieu. Participatory techniques such as transect walks, focus groups, and education programs attempt to encode and manipulate these affective relations in order to construct an artificial and depoliticized form of adaptive capacity that does not threaten neoliberal order. Recognizing the immunological logic at the heart of disaster resilience opens up new ethical and political imperatives in disaster management that value adaptive capacity as the vital force of new socioecological futures, rather than as an object of governmental intervention and control.

Keywords: resilience, affect, agency, assemblage, adaptive capacity, biopolitics, immunization

Introduction

The 2005 passage of the United Nation's Hyogo Framework for Action made "build[ing] the resilience of nations and peoples" the overarching aim of disaster management policy and practice (UN, 2005). Resilience ushered in new approaches to community-based disaster management programming based on adaptive comanagement strategies (Tompkins and Adger, 2004). Proponents maintain that inclusive governance structures and adaptive learning devices such as project monitoring tools and scenarios can give voice to those silenced by technocratic approaches to vulnerability reduction (Berkes, 2007; Djalante et al, 2011; Walker et al, 2004). The turn to resilience, we are told, opens a new fold in disaster politics: participatory programming now empowers marginalized people by recognizing their agency (Brown and Westaway, 2011; Eakin and Leurs, 2006).

However, I want to suggest here that the politics of resilience are more complicated than prevailing narratives suggest. A brief example from one of the more trying days of my fieldwork with Jamaica's national disaster management agency, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), will help illustrate the complexities. From June to December 2009, I conducted a participatory institutional ethnography with ODPEM, in which 1 provided social science support for community-based programming run through its Projects Division. My tasks consisted of assisting with transect walks, interviews, and focus groups in order to assess the effectiveness of its initiatives. On this particular day (7 August 2009), I was running a focus group in Hector's River, a village along Jamaica's eastern coast, to monitor the Tropical Storm Gustav Recovery Project. The project, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), provided residents with roofing materials for houses damaged in 2008's Tropical Storm Gustav. A team of ODPEM carpenters would select recipients in each town by assessing the damage the storm had done to their roofs. Prior to receiving supplies, recipients had to arrange a team of volunteer construction workers, who would then receive training in resilient roofing practices. After work had been completed 1 came to conduct focus groups with participants in each village, in order to identify any immediate issues that could be addressed before work started in the next town and also assess the project's impact on community relations and sustainable development. …

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