Considering social resilience-based approaches to emergencies and disasters

We will now look at an innovative approach to emergencies and disasters, what could be called the ‘social resilience-based approach’.

This will build on your previous examination of a political, economic and socially-based approach to understanding emergencies and disasters, and will propose a number of steps to taking a social resilience-based approach.

You will consider what assumptions it makes, the academic specialisms and applied professions associated with it, and examine how it addresses nature, society, the role of technology, people, and human nature.

The social resilience-based approach to disaster and emergency

Nature society and disasters or emergencies

The focus of this approach is on who or what is exposed to risk and the consequences of this exposure, if that risk is ‘realised’ (in other words, if the potential harm or damage is actually incurred). Generally speaking, in terms of who may be affected if a risk is realised, the focus is on the consequences for groups of people. What constitutes a ‘group’ may be determined on the basis of factors such as geographic location, or demographic characteristics, such as religion, ethnicity, gender, age or social class.

This approach conceptualises disasters as being socially constructed. Thus, disasters are considered to be the consequence of human activity and are social problems that reflect established social, economic, and political arrangements in the societies in which they occur.

The role of technology

The social resilience approach understands that many technologies have increased the potential harm or damage to which groups in society are exposed, and that this harm and damage have come to be built into the fabric of society. Examples include the vulnerability of various types of critical infrastructure, such as electricity, fuel and water supply networks and transportation and communications systems. Also, this approach takes the view that different groups in society may be differentially exposed to the risks that may be posed by these systems. On the other hand, many of these same technological systems are now required for resilience to emergencies and disasters; however, this approach also recognises that social, economic, and political factors acting on technology may affect its availability to some social groups.

Academic specialisms and applied professions

Fields such as political economy, sociology and some stands of economics, geography and disaster management dominate this approach to the study of emergencies and disasters.

Human nature, emergencies and disasters

A social resilience-based approach to emergencies and disasters takes the view that these events are socially-constructed. Therefore, the role of social, economic and political factors affecting groups in a society are considered to be of paramount importance.

Social resilience is concerned with the ability of a social group (such as an organisation or a community) to mitigate, respond, and recover from an emergency or disaster in a way that will minimise social disruption and disruption to livelihoods, and that will also promote adaptation to similar potential future events. A primary basis for social resilience is considered to be social capital, ie, the connections within and between social networks in a society, as well as between individuals. A social resilience-based approach emphasises the involvement or even the control by social groups of actions taken to address emergencies and disasters and their effects on the groups, concerned.

A social resilience-based approach to disaster and emergencies?

For consideration here are some general steps for taking what may be termed a social resilience-based approach to intervening into disasters and emergencies:

  • Investigate and act in respect of the role of social, economic, and political relations in the creation of hazardous situations in specific places

  • Investigate and act in respect of the social distribution of risk in different places (ie. in which social groups are more or less at risk to one or another of an array of different risks)

  • Reveal the capacity and capabilities of different social groups to deal with risk – eg. specific knowledge, skills, and practices – and act to cope with and increase resilience to hazards, disasters and emergencies triggered by the realisation of those risks

Your task

What might be some of the limitations of a social resilience-based approach to intervening into disasters and emergencies?

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This article is from the free online course:

Emergencies and Disasters: Trends and Issues

Coventry University