Natural Disasters and Development: In a Globalizing World

By Mark Pelling | Go to book overview

9

The social construction of natural disaster

Egypt and the UK

Jacqueline Homan

there are no expert solutions in risk discourse, because experts can only supply factual information and are never able to assess which solutions are culturally acceptable.

(Beck 1996:20)


Introduction

Disasters researchers engaging with broad post-structural work on society- nature relations are beginning to recognize the numerous factors that impinge on social constructions of disaster, influencing the ways in which people perceive and respond to risk and provoking much local variation both within cultures and societies and between them (e.g. Blaikie et al. 1994). This chapter explores natural disaster perception through two case studies: an earthquake that struck Cairo, Egypt on 12 October 1992 and storms that affected the south coast of the UK on 16 October 1987. These cases reveal that although recent thinking in sociology and human geography has indicated that globalization of culture is occurring (e.g. Harvey 1990; Hannerz 1990), environmental meaning remains culturally and ethnically constructed and subject to the idiosyncrasies of indigenous culture.


The social construction of disaster

Understanding the 'natural' in disasters

Whilst contemporary research indicates that exposure to disaster is far from 'natural' and that power inequities often explain differences in losses sustained and recovery, perception studies (including the case studies used in this chapter) reveal that people tend to view events as an exaggeration of the natural world. It is therefore important to explore the ways in which social constructions of nature have changed within societies in order to contextualize hazard perception.

Research into 'natural' disasters and risk has, until relatively recently, been typified by modernist approaches and confined within expert discourses. As such, it has neglected to account fully for cultural idiosyncrasy and

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