Transformations – University of Copenhagen

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Changing Disasters > About the project > Transformations

Transformations

The research cluster on transformations will investigate the social and technical transformations initiated by disasters on a short- as well as long-term basis.

At the institutional level, reports by the United Nations and the World Bank highlights, as the first main finding, that “a disaster exposes the cumulative implications of many earlier decisions, some taken individually, others collectively, and a few by default”. Thus, at the political, legal and organisational level, a disaster offers a wealth of information for contingency planning and training for future disasters as well as fundamental insights into institutional structures and mechanisms. Disasters therefore often trigger major institutional transformations, both of disaster management systems and of societies as such.

At the cultural level, disasters affect individuals and communities in the immediate aftermath and in the long term. Hence, disasters induce transformations at the personal or collective level as survivors must learn to live with their losses and traumas. The sociologist Kai Erikson highlights two types of disaster trauma, the individual trauma (“a blow to the psyche that breaks through one’s defences so suddenly and with such force that one cannot respond effectively”) and community trauma (“a blow to the tissues of social life that damages the bonds linking people together and impairs the prevailing sense of community”). In this field of micro-transformations post-disaster rituals and community remembrance also has a central role to social adaption and of course resilience. Not only communities and people directly affected by a concrete disaster are affected. The fear and anticipation of a disaster also impact on social relations and practices, for instances affecting house construction, economic investments and security measures.

A central aim of this research cluster is to integrate the institutional and the cultural level regarding the question of transformation. This will be done by taking a broader perspective that looks at the social, economic, legal, political and cultural transformation for both entire nations and regions in the aftermath of large scale disasters and for individual communities. Traditionally this institutional and cultural ”after-treatment” of disasters is approached under the heading recovery. However, large scale disasters often have long-run impacts on the communities in which they occur, regionally and even globally. Thus, there is a need to study these wide ranging longer term processes and effects if we are to understand and assess the total impact of disasters. At present, such studies are rare. Most studies of the aftermath of disasters are still about community reconstruction, individual and collective trauma, and legal battles. A central question in this research cluster will be if disasters tend to serve as triggers of systemic change or if they prevent such change and to what extent these transformations are channelled by good governance and institutions.

For further information please contact Professor John Rand or Professor Morten Broberg.