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Purpose Few people living in informal settlements in the Global South spontaneously claim that they are “resilient” or “adapting” to disaster risk or climate change. Surely, they often overcome multiple challenges, including natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. Yet their actions are increasingly examined through the framework of resilience, a notion developed in the North, and increasingly adopted in the South. To what extent eliminate’ do these initiatives correspond to the concepts that scholars and authorities place under the resilience framework? Design/methodology/approach Three longitudinal case studies in Yumbo, Salgar and San Andrés (Colombia) serve to investigate narratives of disaster risks and responses to them. Methods include narrative analysis from policy and project documents, presentations, five workshops, six focus groups and 24 interviews. Findings The discourse adopted by most international scholars and local authorities differs greatly from that used by citizens to explain risk and masks the politics involved in disaster reduction and the search for social justice. Besides, narratives of social change, aspirations and social status are increasingly masked in disaster risk explanations. Tensions are also concealed, including those regarding the winners and losers of interventions and the responsibilities for disaster risk reduction. Originality/value Our findings confirm previous results that have shown that the resilience framework contributes to “depoliticize” the analysis of risk and serves to mask and dilute the responsibility of political and economic elites in disaster risk creation. But they also show that resilience fails to explain the type of socioeconomic change that is required to reduce vulnerabilities in Latin America.
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We said, they said: the politics of
conceptual frameworks in
disasters and climate change in
Colombia and Latin America
Gonzalo Lizarralde
School of Architecture, Universit
e de Montr
eal, Montreal, Canada
Holmes P
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia
Adriana Lopez and Oswaldo Lopez
Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia
Lisa Bornstein
McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Kevin Gould
Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Benjamin Herazo
School of Architecture, Universit
e de Montr
eal, Montreal, Canada, and
Lissette Mu~
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Purpose Few people living in informal settlements in the Global South spontaneously claim that they are
resilientor adaptingto disaster risk or climate change. Surely, they often overcome multiple challenges,
including natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. Yet their actions are increasingly examined through
the framework of resilience, a notion developed in the North, and increasingly adopted in the South. To what extent
eliminatedo these initiatives correspond to the concepts that scholars and authorities place under the resilience
Design/methodology/approach Three longitudinal case studies in Yumbo, Salgar and San Andr
(Colombia) serve to investigate narratives of disaster risks and responses to them. Methods include narrative
analysis from policy and project documents, presentations, five workshops, six focus groups and 24 interviews.
Findings The discourse adopted by most international scholars and local authorities differs greatly from
that used by citizens to explain risk and masks the politics involved in disaster reduction and the search for
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
© Gonzalo Lizarralde, Holmes P
aez, Adriana Lopez, Oswaldo Lopez, Lisa Bornstein, Kevin Gould,
Benjamin Herazo and Lissette Mu~
noz. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is
published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce,
distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial & non-commercial
purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence
may be seen at
This research was supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Grant
# 108501. Project: Climate change adaptation in informal settings: Understanding and reinforcing
bottom-up initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also received support from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Fonds de recherche du Qu
(FRQSC). We acknowledge the special contribution of our partners: the Universidad del Valle, the
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, and the Corporaci
on Antioquia Presente, Colombia. Special thanks to
the communities of Yumbo, Salgar, and San Andr
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 9 January 2020
Revised 22 April 2020
13 May 2020
Accepted 14 May 2020
Disaster Prevention and
Management: An International
Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/DPM-01-2020-0011
social justice. Besides, narratives of social change, aspirations and social status are increasingly masked in
disaster risk explanations. Tensions are also concealed, including those regarding the winners and losers of
interventions and the responsibilities for disaster risk reduction.
Originality/value Our findings confirm previous results that have shown that the resilience framework
contributes to depoliticizethe analysis of risk and serves to mask and dilute the responsibility of political and
economic elites in disaster risk creation. But they also show that resilience fails to explain the type of
socioeconomic change that is required to reduce vulnerabilities in Latin America.
Keywords Narrative, Adaptation, Resilience, Climate change, Informality
Paper type Research paper
Introduction –“Mariana has the right attitude
Academics interested in reducing the impacts of climate change increasingly conduct
research on resilience, capacity building and adaptation. The authors of this article recently
followed this international trend, and set up a project to investigate informal mechanisms of
adaptationto climate change and variability in Colombia, Cuba and Chile. The project
received handsome funding, with which we have been able to conduct detailed empirical
research in five small cities. But two years into the project, we realized something important:
almost nobody we had talked to in our fieldwork had ever used the terms or concepts we had
adopted for our investigation. Community leaders in focus groups did not naturally talked
about resilience.Disaster affected people almost never used the terms adaptive capacity
or adaptation.When ordinary citizens used the Spanish equivalents of these terms, it was
only in strained responses to researchersquestions or comments. We then suspected that
when respondents used these terms, they were mirroring our own sentences or trying to
understand what we meant by them. When, for instance, one of our interviewees wanted to
describe a neighbor she would say, Mariana has the right attitude to overcome any
challenge,or something similar. In our initial research notes, we often interpreted this as a
form of resilience. But while we were documenting longer narratives, loose translations soon
piled up. The overall message was being distorted. We were, for instance, assuming that
certain responses corresponded to adaptation capacitiessimply because we saw them a
priori that way, and not necessarily because interviewees and project participants implied the
attributes that scholars often attach to adaptation. Were project participants adopting
researchersvocabularies in an attempt to communicate their own needs and advance their
own interests? Were we being patronizing with locale residents by imposing a new language?
Or even worse, were we enacting a new form of intellectual colonialism imposed by the North
on the Global South?
We did not expect, of course, residents to use scientific jargon. But we expected that our
academic concepts were useful to explain the empirical evidence on the ground. There were
three possibilities. First, that the concepts that ordinary Colombians and we (academics)
use are fundamentally similar ways of describing the same phenomena. In that case, we
could match and translate terms, using scholarship to bridge vernacular and theoretical
concepts. Second, that the concepts used by ordinary citizens are of a different resolution
either more specific/grounded or more generalized than the language researchers were using.
These two scenarios, however, imply that there is a form of parallelism between vernacular
and academic narratives. In the first case, it is a matter of finding equivalents, much like a
translator between two languages. In the second case, it is a matter of elaborating
local meanings to make them more understandable and useful for a scientific audience. But
this is not what we found. This form of parallelism does not exist. We found instead
an incommensurability between vernacular and techno-academic narratives. This paper
explains why and how.
The first part of the article positions this study within current debates on the politics of
conceptual frameworks in disaster studies. This literature review including criticism of the
resilience framework and its on-going adoption in policy constitutes the background
against which the empirical data is analyzed. The second section explains both the methods
that were originally deployed in the study, and those that were adopted to adjust the
empirical approach. Here, we introduce the narratives found and compare them with previous
studies on disaster politics. We finally summarize the conclusions of the study and highlight
the practical and theoretical implications of the gaps identified. We eventually conclude that
ways of understanding climate change cannot be separated from those used to examine the
struggles for social justice.
Foreign conceptual frameworks
Several authors have claimed that relations of domination are reproduced in the production of
knowledge and that forms of colonialism have long influenced scholarship (Altbach, 2004).
This scholarship documents how inequalities are normalized in relation to exclusionary
visions of modernity, sustainability, development and other taken for granted categories of
development studies see, for instance, Escobar (1995). Such critiques understand the
production of knowledge and the elaboration of political economies as fully entangled
(Mitchell, 2002). Domination may also play out in academia through the evaluation systems of
research, which often ignore or belittle the effective use of knowledge in the South, and favors
research results that are inaccurate or arbitrary when applied to problems in poor countries
(Lebel and McLean, 2018). In response, some scholars argue for academic decolonization and
consider that more South-South educational interchange is required to improve science
(Selvaratnam, 1988). Gallard, who has explored colonialism and knowledge dominance in the
disasters field, argues that northern academics:
Should encourage local [southern] researchers who know best local contexts to study local disasters.
Their owndisasters. This is critical in the non-Western world that suffers most but where local
voices are most often unheard or filtered through Western epistemologies or even suppressed by
state power. (p. 8) (Gallard, 2019).
Critics, however, argue that knowledge does not have owners, and that discriminating the
origin of scholars does little service to the current production of much needed knowledge on
climate change and disaster risk reduction (Alexander, 2019;Lizarralde, 2019). But even if the
origin of scholars is a contentious issue in studies of colonialism, it is largely accepted that
international frameworks have had a crucial role in shaping disaster studies in the
Global South.
This study focuses on implications of miscommunication in disasters and climate change
action. It builds on previous studies based on post-Foucauldian critical discourse analysis
see for example Bertholet et al. (2016). Our main focus is not knowledge colonialism per se. But
we recognize that the politics of conceptual frameworks operate within the broader context of
asymmetry in power relationships. The study is therefore influenced by a tradition of
scholarship in three areas.
First, studies that have denounced knowledge colonialism in Latin America (Polo and
neiro, 2019) and have looked for alternative (non-Northern) narratives to the improvement
of living conditions in poor countries (Blanco-Wells and G
unther, 2019;Escobar, 1995;Roy,
2005;Visvanathan, 1991).
Second, studies that have examined the narratives deployed to justify disaster response
(Bornstein et al., 2013) and to explain (or deny) climate change effects in the Global South
see, for instance, Jooste et al. (2018).
Third, ethnographersnotion of transculturation,and Pratts idea of autoethnographic
expression.In colonialism studies, the former explains how subordinated or marginal
groups select and invent from materials transmitted to them by a dominant or metropolitan
culture(p. 6) (Pratt, 2007). The latter refers to instances in which colonized subjects
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizers own terms(p. 7).
In Imperial Eyes, Pratt finds that colonized people adopt the languages and ideas of the
colonizer, adapting vernacular ideas to fit the ideals of foreigners or rulers. This implies both
partial collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the conquerorin a dialectic
manner (p. 7). While subjugated peoples cannot readily control what emanates from the
dominant culture,she writes, they do determine to varying extents what they absorb into
their own, and what they use it for(p. 6).
Here we use Pratts notions of dialectic relationships to help us explain the rapid adoption
of foreign frameworks to explain climate change responses in Latin America. We recognize
that more studies are still required to explore mismatches between techno-academic and
vernacular discourses related to risk and climate change in informal settlements the region.
We focus on the adoption of narratives of resilience to climate change and disaster risk
reduction in Colombia.
From vulnerability to resilience and maladaptation
Scholars know that explanations of risk and disasters have a significant impact on policy and
interventions. Since the creation of the Pressure and Release (PAR) model, social scientists
have seen disasters as the result of accumulated vulnerabilities that meet a natural hazard
(Blaikie et al., 1994). Vulnerability leads to unsafe conditions, but results from historic
injustices and root causes such as marginalisation, exploitation, racism, colonialism, neglect
and segregation. When natural hazards (even those exacerbated by climate change) meet
unsafe conditions, disasters occur (Kelman et al., 2016;Kelman et al., 2017). But it is the idea of
resilience, and its metaphoric imagery of bouncing backor bouncing forward,that have
most recently captured the imagination of politicians, engineers, architects, planners,
designers, and other decision-makers worldwide. Today, it is one of the most important
frameworks in disaster risk policy and the fight against climate change.
The resilience framework has sparked much controversy in social sciences (Lizarralde,
2016). Several studies have criticized it on the grounds that it proposes concepts and ideas that
are too vague, ill-defined and difficult to grasp in empirical way (Alexander, 2013;Chmutina
et al., 2016;Klein et al., 2003;Lizarralde et al., 2015a). Scholars have also found inherent
difficulties in aligning the principles of sustainability and resilience (Lizarralde et al., 2015a).
Other critics have challenged the very premises of the bounce-backprinciple that underlines
resilience, arguing that the return of a system to a pre-disaster condition is sometimes illogical,
especially when this state was or is undesirable (Pizzo, 2015). Other authors have pointed to
the lack of tools and methods to assess resilience and adaptive capacities (Davoudi, 2012;
Klein et al., 2003;Stumpp, 2013;Tobin, 1999). Many have concluded that resilience works as
a general principle that often fails to be operationalized on the ground(Levine, 2014).
But the most prominent criticism of the resilience-adaptation framework comes from two
fronts. The first one argues that resilience is often used as a tool to support the neoliberal
tradition of disengagement of the state (Evans and Reid, 2014a;White and OHare, 2014).
Resilience feeds and benefits from, neoliberal policies, perpetuating oppression and
dominance by political and economic elites (Joseph, 2013). In many cases, it perpetuates
oppression towards indigenous communities (Evans and Reid, 2014b) and other social
groups. It also contributes to various forms of neoliberal change, including those focused on
rapid liberalization of markets, integration in international trade, decentralisation (Guarneros-
Meza and Geddes, 2010), transfer of responsibilities to markets and individuals, reduction of
public institutions, control by corporations (Klein, 2007) and other forms of politically
supported savage capitalism (Gledhill, 2004;Perreault and Martin, 2005). Adaptation,
security, risk management and resiliency,writes Michael Watts (2015),are the
contemporary hegemonic forms in which particular forms of life constitute the basis of
neoliberal rule and governance(p. 41).
The second one argues that the resilience-adaptation framework often makes invisible the
political dimension of disaster risk creation and climate change response. According to
MacKinnon and Derickson (2013) Convergence of thinking around the notion of resilience is
resulting in the evacuation of the political(p. 266). Similarly, Klepp and Chavez-Rodriguez
(2018) conclude that most of the discussions concerning adaptationare effectively framed
in an apolitical manner(p. 3). The social and economic impacts of climate change focused
mitigation projects have not yet been fully assessed,argued Wisner et al. (2007) who include
Gustavo Wilches-Chaux, one of the most influential Colombian authors in DRR.
There are so many problems with the manipulation of resilience for the advancement of
economic agendas, and the entwined de-politizationof adaptation, that scholars have
coined a term for it: maladaptation. Maladaptation, says Juhola et al. (2016, p. 139), is the
result of an intentional adaptation policy or measure directly increasing vulnerability for the
targeted and/or external actor(s), and/or eroding preconditions for sustainable development
by indirectly increasing societys vulnerability.Related terms include adaptation
opportunism. Owusu-Daaku (2018, p. 935) describes this form of maladaptation as a
situation in which projects undertaken in the name of climate change adaptation (CCA) are
overrun by interests other than the stated or intended objectives of the CCA project.In
climate change interventions, cases of maladaptation where social injustices are reproduced
and resilience measures hijacked by elites to legitimize development initiatives, have been
reported in Asia (Yarina, 2018), and in Colombia, and other places (Anguelovski et al., 2016).
From natural disastersto social changeand resiliencein Latin America
Before the 1990s, common narratives in Latin America saw disasters merely as natural
phenomena, extreme events that had to be controlled with technical solutions or punishments
from heaven. But in 1992, a group of Latin American and international scholars joined forces
to correct this orientation. They created a network called La Red (the network) to promote a
political and socio-economic understanding of disasters (Lavell, 2004). La Red argued for the
need to examine disasters under general principles of social sciences and through the
vulnerability lens and the emerging PAR model. Academics such as WilchesChaux (1989,
1993,2005), Wisner (2001),Lavell (1996) and Oliver-Smith (1996) explored the politics of risk
and the role of economic and institutional systems in disaster-risk creation in Latin America.
Many of these approaches benefitted from a Marxist perspective that viewed socio-economic
inequalities as a root cause of vulnerability (Cardona, 2002). Others linked vulnerability to
lack of development (Cardona, 1993,1996). Informal housing and settlements were considered
physical manifestations of rooted forms of vulnerability (Lizarralde, 2008;L
and L
opez-Bernal, 2017). Disasters,argued Cardona (2002),must be understood as
unsolved problems in development(p. 15). Similarly, Colombian author Lopez Bernal argued
that socio-natural disasters are deeply linked to poverty [...] and are the consequence of
unsustainable forms of development(p. 28) (L
opez-Bernal, 2010).
Several academics have continued this tradition, claiming that issues of social and
environmental justice should not be isolated from the understanding of risk in Colombia
(Baptiste, 2017) and Latin America (Fern
andez et al., 2020). But it has been difficult to contain
the trend of international scholars and urban consultants focused on the resilience/adaptation
frameworks. This became evident in a recent study that examined how different explanations
of flood risk were adopted in Tabaso, Mexico. The authors found that before 2000, narratives
focused on flood control with technical solutions. Then, in 2003, stakeholders and media
focused on how solutions should be outsourced to the private sector and how markets could
lead to development. A few years later, narratives focused on urban planning, relocation,
adaptation and resilience. Here, there was a push to make local residents capable of living
with water risk. Responsibility for flood management was transferred to residents, while the
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
prevailing narrative helped to legitimize evictions of informal residents from settlements
near the city centre(p. 22) (Bertholet et al., 2016).
Another example is how explanations of disasters have rapidly evolved in the Andean
region. A 2009 report by the Andean Committee for Disaster Prevention and Response on
how to communicate risk in the region made no mention of the terms resilience and
adaptation (Obreg
on et al., 2009). The 67-page document instead focused on prevention(93
mentions), rehabilitation(17 mentions), reconstruction(15 mentions), vulnerability(13
mentions) and protection(6 references). The main objective was to situate disaster response
in terms of social change.But only eight years later, a report on how to create awareness
and educate people about climate change impacts in Colombia was built on a different
framework (IDEAM et al., 2017). This second report, supported by the United Nations
Development Program, used the terms resilience/resilient17 times, capacity164 times,
and adaptive/adaptation291 times. This document attests to a dramatic shift: the purpose
now was to create adaptive capacities to deal with risk and climate change without a single
mention of social change.
Methods from case studies to comparing narratives
This project involved two sets of methods: those that we deployed to answer the original
research question and those we used to reveal the narratives found in the empirical work. The
former was devised to answer the following questions: How are vulnerable residents in
informal settlements in Yumbo, Salgar and San Andr
es (Colombia) adapting to climate
change effects? How do bottom-up interventions contribute to disaster-risk reduction? We
thus conducted three detailed longitudinal cases (Eisenhardt, 1989;Proverbs and Gameson,
2008). For each case, data were collected over a period of three years. Primary data sources
included interviews with residents, decision-makers and officers, detailed observations,
project visits, on-site drawings and photographic reports. We also analyzed data from
secondary sources including policy documents, contractual documents, press clips,
vulnerability maps, and project and strategy reports. The three case studies included a
series of activities detailed in Table 1.
While applying these methods, we noticed that our research questions required some form
of translation to explain them to ordinary citizens. We also realized that we had never heard a
resident use the terms or concepts that we used in our questions. The study then took a
different direction.
We focused on the analysis of narratives that came directly from the local people (we call
them here vernacular,as opposed to the techno-academicnarrative). Much like Moezzi et al.
(2017), we use narratives as data objects to gather, analyze and critique. Paschen and Ison
Visits Workshops Interviews
In depth
Presentations by
Yumbo 2015,
2015, 2016,
2017, 2018
64 411hof
Salgar 2017,
2018 10 1 5 9 h of
81 47hof
Table 1.
Activities conducted
for the three case
(2014, p. 1083) argue that narrative research offers an innovative, holistic approach to a better
understanding of socio-ecological systems and the improved, participatory design of local
adaptation policies.We see narrative as the primary communication tool that people use (or
are incited to use) to get access to resources or conduct interventions aimed at disaster-risk
reduction (Fortmann, 1995;Roe, 1991). We contend that people pick up narratives that are
useful to them or the claims that they wish to advance, and leave aside those that are not
(Bornstein, 2008). Keeping thisin mind, we revised fieldwork notes, re-analyzed transcripts and
re-heard or re-visualized recorded meetings and focus groups. We then identified categories
used in these narratives, paying particular attention to the ones directly linked to risk.
Data was analyzed following a systemic approach. GIS-based and qualitative synthesis of
the factors of vulnerability were developed. We then relied on four levels of triangulation as
identified by Love et al. (2002): (1) data triangulation or the comparison of sources of
information, (2) interdisciplinary triangulation, where we compared perspectives coming
from architecture, construction, geography, engineering and urban planning, (3)
methodological triangulation, where multiple methods of data collection and analysis were
used, and (4) investigator triangulation, by having different researchers independently
analysing data on the same phenomenon and later validating the results. Finally, we
identified patterns within each case study.
We paid particular attention to the importance that respondents attach to corruption,
violence, crime and lack of health care. But we eventually focused the study on four variables
that emerged as the most representative of the message that residents were trying to convey:
(1) vulnerability; (2) resilience; (3) adaptation; and (4) informality and aspirations. We then
identified the narratives used by authorities in policy documents and regulations, and
compared them with the ones adopted by scholars.
The methods included working with local leaders in low-income communities and
engaging in long discussions with them in order to validate results found in empirical
fieldwork. We also conducted participant observation, spending several weeks in direct
contact with residents, understanding their daily activities and social interactions. In the last
step, we confronted both the techno-academic discourse and the vernacular narratives,
highlighting differences between the categories previously identified.
Results you said, I said
Disaster Risk Reduction plans adopted in Latin America before 2010 almost never used the
terms resilience or adaptation. But in recent years, an increasing number of policy documents
in Cuba, Colombia and other countries in Latin America have adopted the discourse of
adaptation and resilience. Figure 1 shows the progression in the use of the terms resilience/
Figure 1.
The progression of the
use of terms in the
strategic plans drafted
in three different years
by the Colombian Unit
for Disaster Risk
Management (number
of mentions)
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
nt,”“capacity/ies,”“adaptationand climatein the strategic plans of the Colombian Unit for
Disaster Risk Management drafted in 2013, 2014 and 2018.
Resilience is now a key objective of the Governments National Plan for Risk and Disaster
Management (20152025). The document claims that the reduction of vulnerabilities in the
face of climate change is based on the development of resilience and adaptation. Disaster risk
management must enhance community resilience through information and participation of
all its members,says the plan (p. 38). This trend in public policy has been accompanied by
the influence of international urban consultants. Cali and Medell
ın, are now part of the 100
Resilient Cities of the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2015, UNISDR and the local organisation
Corporiesgos signed an agreement to transform the Colombian region of El Valleinto a
resilient territory. In 2018, the United Nations Development Program declared Colombia a
resilient territory.Local newspapers in Cali, such as El Pa
ıs,now publish articles about
resilience, in which journalist make extraordinary efforts to explain the term in plain Spanish
(El Pa
ıs, 2016).
In this sense, Colombian policy is following a trend that appears in scientific literature in
Latin America in general. Figure 2 shows the progression of terms in Google Scholar over the
past five decades. The left figure shows the progression of Disaster resilience in Latin
Americaand its equivalent in Spanish Resiliencia a los desastres en Latinoam
right one shows the number of references to Social Change in Latin Americaand Cambio
Social en Latinoam
erica.The figures show that whereas contributions on social change
peaked in the 2000s in both languages, the resilience narrative was gaining importance in
academic literature. Keeping these trends in mind, we now explore the results of the
empirical work.
First case
Yumbo is an industrial town of roughly 100,000 inhabitants, near the city of Cali. It is a hub of
medium-, and high-skilled labor, functioning as a transition zone between remote and
marginalized communities on the Pacific coast and Cali. Over the last two decades, it has
rapidly urbanized, notably due to the arrival of thousands of Colombians displaced by the 50-
year-long war between the government, paramilitary groups and leftist guerrillas. The town
has been severely affected by corruption, violence and crime fuelled, in large part, by local
drug cartels. Many of these rural to urban migrants are from either indigenous or African-
Colombian communities. Newly arrived, they lack ties to the area and other residents. Many
of them settle in slums in the outskirts of Yumbo.
Most of its slums are in flood-prone areas. Informal dwellers face extreme heat, frequent
floods and landslides, exacerbated by the Ni~
na and Ni~
no phenomena. They also suffer from
the effects of pollution caused by more than 2,000 heavy-industry plants, including the highly
contaminating production of cement, beer, paper and tires. Average temperatures in Yumbo
1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
1970-1980 1980-1990 1990-2000 2000-2010 2010-2020
Spanish English
Figure 2.
Progression of terms in
Google Scholar. Left:
Cumulative number of
entries containing the
terms Disaster
resilience in Latin
Entries per period of
time concerning Social
Change in Latin
are up to 58C higher than in wealthy neighborhoods in Cali. In 2011, houses and businesses
were destroyed by floods and water surges.
Second case
Salgar is a town of 20,000 inhabitants, located in the Andean mountains. It is, surrounded by
agriculture lands devoted to coffee production. In 2015, torrential floods, caused by heavy
rains, killed about 100 people and destroyed the majority of houses in the municipality. Since
then, a comprehensive reconstruction and vulnerability reduction plan has been put in place.
The reconstruction process was largely influenced by political pressure and polarization.
Two opposing political leaders (now ex-presidents) and parties led reconstruction initiatives
in Salgar. Governance structures were and still are highly politicized. Despite this
polarization (or maybe because of it) as many as 308 housing units were built in Salgar and a
comprehensive economic, psychological and administrative recovery plan was implemented.
Many affected residents who previously had rural modes of living were moved to four storey-
high buildings in peri-urban residential developments. Rural residents in the region have a
strong attachment to the land and traditions. For them, the reconstruction process has come
with significant changes in the way of life.
Third case
The Colombian island of San Andr
es is located in the Caribbean Sea. It is home to 67,000
permanent inhabitants occupying a territory of 26 square kilometres. Tropical storms and
hurricanes affect the region almost every year. Due to its remote location, closer to Nicaragua
than the Colombian coast, its relationship with the mainland has been a matter of debate;
international courts have recognized Nicaraguan claims of sovereignty over the ocean that
surrounds the island.
Islanders have strong traditions and a local language that differ from Colombians living
on the mainland. They make clear distinctions between themselves and newcomers (they call
themselves nativos, or natives, and refer to other Colombians as continentales or pa~
Economic opportunities on the island are very limited. Water is scarce and so are jobs. It is
estimated that 80% of islanders directly or indirectly depend on tourism for their livelihoods.
Over the past 30 years, the population of the island has increased 75% and the number of
tourists reached one million in 2017. Most islanders transform their houses into hostels and
rent rooms to tourists. In 2005, and in response to the demographic pressure, the government
built a new water and sewage system in San Andr
A disconnect between risk causes
Citizens in the three case studies almost never refer to increases in risk due to atmospheric or
meteorological conditions. Most of them, instead, tend to talk about recurrent challenges they
face daily. Most residents are concerned with lack of employment opportunities, access to
health care and water, and lack of trees. They generally see the quality of their living
conditions reduced by violence, crime, transportation, corruption and unemployment. If the
subject of environmental risks is brought up, residents do engage in discussions about floods
or droughts. Yet, when it comes to discussing possible ways of improving living conditions,
or when they sense that funding might be available, they refer to immediate needs such as
improving lighting in public spaces (to reduce crime), transportation (to reduce the hassle of
using public buses) and landscaping (to avoid dust and pollution).
In Yumbo, residents are concerned with the environment, but associate climate change with
something that happens in and affects other countries.They note increases in wildfires and
floods and remember past conditions as better than present ones. For instance, one resident
remembered how, when she was younger, there were woods where [they] used to play and
have fun.However, the loss of such areas is attributed to immediate and visible human
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
activities such as recent miningactivities that deteriorated thesegreen zones, leavingareas of
extraction that have grown with time”–rather than wider dynamics linked to climate change.
Residents associate vulnerability with unmet socio-economic needs in their daily lives
opez-Valencia and L
opez-Bernal, 2015). A frequent cause of vulnerability, for instance, is
lack of paved roads. According to one of the respondents, unpaved roads are a significant
source of air pollution and put people at risk, recounting that taking a neighbour to the
hospital became very difficultand they had to find someone who owns a car and take [the
injured neighbour] to their house so he could be driven to the hospital.
Authorities do not perceive mining, resource extraction or unpaved roads as major risks.
Whereas floods, and run off water are often characterized as climate change risks, road
paving and mining regulations are factors associated with economic development in local
policy and plans. Besides, different departments in the municipality are in charge of
environmental problems and infrastructure. This has led to a significant paradox in Yumbo.
Most roads in low-income neighborhoods such as Las Am
ericas and Pedregal are now being
paved with asphalt or concrete. Since these neighborhoods were built in sloped areas, water
now runs down at higher speed, affecting more dramatically the residents that are in the
lower parts of the settlement. In this sense, vulnerabilities resulting from urban conditions
have been exacerbated by the effects of infrastructure solutions that failed to take contextual
specificities into account.
In Salgar, dozens of residents were victims of the armed conflict and displaced by violence.
Not surprisingly, they are concerned with corruption, crime and conflicts that can result in
violence between, and within, social groups. Many of them have modified their windows and
doors by installing bars to prevent break-ins. When needed, they resort to the police to solve
social conflict. They deplore that authorities are more interested in setting rules for social
behaviour (for example, bylaws that regulate what homeowners can do to front façades or in
public areas) than in listening to their needs and expectations.
Many residents in Salgar miss the rural ways of life they had before the disaster. They see
urban regulations as invasive. They deplore that post-disaster public housing projects
require compliance with collective norms. Another concern is additional housing costs. They
resent paying condo fees and expensive public utilities, bills that now come on a regular basis
and that they did not pay in their previous homes. Some residents would like to take
advantage of economic opportunities linked to urban life, such as setting up a home-based
business, but cannot because current bylaws prohibit them from modifying an apartment
unit received after the disaster.
In San Andr
es, authorities perceive lack of potable water as a major restriction on
economic development. Scholars and authorities perceive water scarcity as a major risk
linked to climate change. Evacuation simulations organized by the San Andr
es Government
are now called A search for resilienceand focus on Hurricane response. For most residents,
the most significant problems are different; they say they know how to deal with hurricanes
and to collect and manage water. They contend that it is newcomers, not native islanders, who
lack this local know-how. For them, the real problem is not the weather or the lack of potable
water per se. Rather, the problem is that corrupt authorities have permitted excessive
immigration of mainland Colombians to the island. It is for this reason, they say, that potable
water is no longer sufficient to meet (growing) demand. Some residents further argue that the
government-run water and sewage systems have polluted the wells that natives historically
used. Corruption and this form of development are, for them, the main causes of vulnerability.
Resilience: a capacity or an attitude?
Most academics see resilience as the result of adaptive capacities (Pelling, 2003;Stumpp,
2013). Resilience rests on both the resources themselves and the dynamic attributes of those
resources (robustness, redundancy, rapidity),writes Norris et al. (2008) (p. 135). The authors
use the term adaptive capacitiesto capture this combination. Projects, resources and
education must lead to the reinforcement of these capacities.
Most residents living in poor neighborhoods in Colombia have never heard the terms
adaptive capacityand resilience.A few of them recognize resilience as used by policy
makers to refer to expected urban conditions to face uncertain problems,such as climate
change and its effects. While Colombians often refer to ways to overcome a tragic event or the
difficulties created by a hostile environment, they rarely describe these as a certain capacity.
Instead, they often link it to an attitude. Women who overcome tragedy or misfortunes, for
instance, do it because they have the right attitudeor an appropriate attitude,often linked
to a positive viewpoint rather than an emphasis on negative situations. This attitude is, for
many, ascribed to up-bringing, education and values taught at a very young age. Some
describe those who do not have this positive attitude as fatalisticor weak.
The links between attitude and resilience,understood differently in vernacular and
expert perspectives, became clear in local narratives. A woman in Salgar said, in the disaster
my [home-based] store was destroyed, but my house was fine. I wanted to stay there and even
started to rebuild the store.She was proud to have the right attitude to do so. For her, real
strength was to rebuild the store and remain where she was, even if the area was disaster-
prone. But, for the authorities, resiliencemeant relocation. She explained that there was too
much pressure and I had to give up and leave,eventually moving to a public housing project
in peri-urban Salgar.
In some cases, risks are explained in mystic terms (Veldman et al., 2014). Misadventures,
for instance, are perceived to happen for a reason,are challenges that God presents to us,
or are outcomes of destiny.In this sense, local residents explained, an appropriateattitude
is required to face misfortunes. Those who overcome such difficulties are stronger and have
developed the proper traits of character to deal with negative effects. These traits are needed
to fix problems, realize aspirations and improve social status. Again, attitude and character,
rather than capacity,are depicted as key in local discourse.
In Yumbo, the main aspirations of residents include having paved roads, restricting
resource extraction (mining activities) and finishing their homes. In Salgar, residentsmain
aspirations include being able to start a business, garden, modify the housing units received
after the disaster and exploit economic opportunities. Women, for instance, dream of having a
piece of land where they can grow plants and vegetables. In San Andr
es, the main aspirations
of residents include being able to run hostels and Bed & Breakfasts. However, they are afraid
that too many of these hostels have been opened recently by immigrants. They resent what
they perceive to be unfaircompetition.
In Colombia, many public service and utility charges, tax rates, social benefits and
subsidies are set according to a scale linked to the estrato, of ones neighborhood of residence.
This scale is determined by municipal authorities and has six possible levels or estratos: 1 for
the poorest neighborhoods and the 6 for the wealthiest ones. Unsurprisingly, residents in the
lowest estratos frequently compare living conditions with those in higher levels. Even though
they rarely want their estrato to be raised (which implies paying more taxes and service fees),
neighborhood improvement is seen as raising ones social status. Residents thus aspire to
better housing and neighborhood amenities such as paved roads and public space. Surely,
achieving these aims rests on some capacities, such as knowledge of construction and
financial literacy. Connections with people in power and public relations skills also help. But
for local residents, most importantly, it requires a particular character:the strength to
navigate the political system, the willingness to take risks in businesses and the faith that
things will get better.
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
Developing adaptation capacities or seizing opportunities?
Adaptation is increasingly seen by scholars as the unavoidable means to achieve a healthy
co-existence between humans and nature (Watts, 2015). It has a positive connotation and is a
prerequisite of resilience (Alberti et al., 2003;Bicknell et al., 2009;Satterthwaite, 2007). Our
interviewees, however, almost never used the term adaptationto refer to possible
improvements in their living conditions. They, instead, typically focus on the urgency (but
also difficulty) of seizing opportunities at the individual or household level. These
opportunities, and their exploitation, can lead to improved housing conditions, additional
income, and access to credit and assets.
Peoples aspirations often relate more to social status than climate change adaptation.
This does not mean that risks related to floods and meteorological events are not important.
But, according to our interviewees, the most significant risks they face are linked to poverty
and precarious housing conditions rather than increased exposure to climate-related factors.
Local residents identify lack of urban infrastructure and socio-economic problems, which
have recurrent impacts of daily life, as their most pressing needs. Climate change effects, in
contrast, are seen as uncertain, sporadic events that do not entail attention with the same
In Yumbo, for instance, residents want to seize opportunities to open a business that can
be run from home, pave the road where their house is located, and upgrade their homes. In
Salgar, residents want to grow gardens and be able to combine a rural lifestyle with the
benefits of living in public housing. In San Andr
es, natives want to seize economic
opportunities in tourism. These opportunities are critical for survival. They fear that growing
immigration can dilute the benefits of tourism and reduce access to water and other local
resources. Other opportunities in the three cases include convincing a local politician to pay
attention to their neighborhood, obtaining sponsorship from a local company, or receiving a
favor from a wealthy friend or acquaintance.
Opportunities that can be seized by residents do not necessarily imply long-term
improvement. Home-based businesses, for instance, are viewed as a short to medium-term
opportunity, and not necessarily as a long-term solution to family income. Residents talk
about long-term goals: the possibility of sending their kids to better schools or universities;
building a house that children can inherit, facilitating conditions to have company during old
age; sending children abroad; and reunifying the household with family members elsewhere.
But they often focus on seizing short-term opportunities, even when the long-term benefits
are unclear. In this sense, many of them seem to operate more in a survivalmode than in a
journey to develop adaptive capacities. Many residents, for instance, want the neighborhood
to improve, but not necessarily their estrato to be raised. This creates a tension between their
aspirations for better living conditions and housing affordability.
Informal settlements or places under construction?
Scholars have long debated the pertinence of a formal-informal dichotomy to explain urban,
economic and labor conditions in developing countries in general (Mayne, 2017) and Latin
American nations in particular (Rakowski, 1994). Most of them now refuse the formal-
informal distinction, favoring instead the recognition of a continuum between two conditions
that only exist in their abstract form: total formality and total informality (Bornstein, 1992;
Lizarralde, 2014). Nonetheless, most of them even in the South still recognize that there is a
form of subaltern urbanism(Roy, 2011); bottom-up urban agency (Lizarralde and Davidson,
2006), and unplannedand unplannableurban form (Roy, 2005) in poor countries. These
notions help describe slums or neighborhoods that are initiated through self-help
construction, as well as economic activities conducted from home and through micro-
enterprises that do not comply with official standards and norms (Kasarda and Crenshaw,
1991;Werna, 2001).
Of course, none of the residents we met refer to their house, neighborhood or economic
activity as informal. Quite often, they refer to their estrato as a way to denote physical and
socio-economic conditions. Their house is under construction,their neighborhood in a
process of consolidation,and their home-based income a resourceful solution.The idea
that these products and activities are separated from formal practices does not make sense
to them.
Differences with wealthier sectors are explained by residents in Yumbo in terms of the
quality of roads and transportation, as well as the lack of vegetation in public space. In Salgar,
they are explained in terms of freedom to modify their homes and have access to land that can
be used for gardening and social and recreational activities. Finally, these differences are
explained by residents in San Andr
es in terms of freedom to exploit resources by natives.
Native islanders believe that they have legitimate rights to exploit local resources that
immigrants do not. For them, most social differences are determined by birthplace, not
formality or informality.
Residents perceive differences as ones of privilege. Distinctions between their homes
and those located in a wealthy neighborhood and between, say, their home-bases shops and
a fancy shop in a higher estrato zone has more to do with status than with the origin or
process to obtain it. Residents of lower estratos aspire to fancier houses, neighborhoods or
jobs, but not necessarily those in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Equally notable, they do
not see their neighborhoods or economic activities as operating in parallel to a formal
economic or urban system.
Discussion a tale of conflicting narratives
Previous studies have explored the relevance and impact of narratives to understand
environmental problems (Gudynas, 2003), under-development (Escobar, 1995), disasters
(Gould et al., 2016), development planning (Bornstein, 2008), responses to climate change
opez-Valencia and L
opez-Bernal, 2015) and risk in Latin America (Bertholet et al., 2016).
Few studies, nonetheless, have explored the impact of resilience in informal settlements in the
region. And yet, over the past ten years, the resilience metaphor has captured the imagination
of academics and policy makers in the region. It has been adopted as the principal framework
in disaster-risk policy in Latin America. The jargon of adaptation and resilience is now used
by local politicians, NGOs, funding agencies and technocrats. In this sense, resilience has
become a recent example of both auto-ethnograhic expression and transculturation.
Plans for disaster risk reduction and mitigation existed in many Latin American countries
before the introduction of resilience frameworks. Many of these plans, including the Cuban
model of disaster risk reduction, were (and still are) highly effective (Lizarralde et al., 2015b;
Valladares, 2013). But scholars in Latin America have quickly adopted the terms used by
their counterparts in the North. In Pratts terms (2007), local academics and decision-makers
have involved in partial collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms(p. 7) of the more
powerful international stakeholders (in this case foreign scholars, urban consultants and
international agencies). In an example of transculturation and auto-ethnographic expression,
they are creating representations that adopt the terms and ideas that come from abroad,
within unequal power relations. One of the reasons is that, as educational systems are being
reinforced, increasing numbers of scholars in the region do not want to miss the boat.They
want to publish in international platforms, get global recognition, and apply to funding in the
North. Resilience has become, for many of them, unavoidable.
In other contexts, scholars have found significant problems with the theoretical and
practical premises of resilience. Levine (2014), argues that when we try to turn resilience into
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
a scientific definition, trouble inevitably starts(p. 23). Our study finds that Levine is right in
his assessment of the difficulties to operationalize resilience. Yet he misses the point. In
reality, when we try to turn resilience into a common language explanation of phenomena
trouble inevitably starts. In this sense, our study confirms a pattern previously found by
Yarina (2018) in several cities in Asia; for her, the Climate Adaptation Strategy is filled with
ideas that may make sense in a Western context but fail to translate smoothly to local
conditions(no p.).
Adaptive capacities, panarchy and other academic terms linked to resilience, have no real
meaning in vernacular Spanish. The Spanish form resiliencia is not only difficult to
pronounce, but carries no meaning in common conversation. Not surprisingly these concepts
are almost never used by residents in the three cases we studied. Is this cleavage simply a
matter of abstraction or technical pertinence? We believe it is not. Finally, there are multiple
terms that are not used in casual conversation but carry great importance in scientific work,
including medical terms (the rarity of medical terms in casual conversation does not make
them less valuable to science). Our study confirms that neither abstraction nor limited
pertinence apply. In the case of resilience in Colombia, the vernacular narratives are not
simply rudimentary versions of the resilience theory. They are simply different narratives.
Several authors have previously criticized the resilience framework (Alexander, 2013;
Chmutina et al., 2016;Davoudi, 2012;Joseph, 2013;Klein et al., 2003;Manyena, 2006). They
have focused on its lack of clarity, its difficulties in implementation, its wide adoption in
different contexts or its manipulation by political and economic elites. According to White
and OHare, resilience leaves unaddressed wider sociocultural concerns and instead emerges
as a narrow, regressive, techno-rational frame centred on reactive measures at the building
scale(p. 934) (White and OHare, 2014). Here we find another problem with resilience: its
scholarship is significantly disconnected from vernacular narratives. Similarly, criticism of
the formal-informal dichotomy is by no means new (Aguilar, 2009;Chen, 2005;Doherty and
Silva, 2011;Hansen, 2001;Rakowski, 1994;Werna, 2001). The difference here is that we are
not challenging the dichotomy. We reveal, instead, that the formal/informal distinction is
absent in vernacular narratives in Colombia.
What are the dangers of adopting the resilience framework in disaster-risk policy in
Colombia? First, it may introduce in local communities problems or concerns that do not
actually exist. Second, it can distort messages that are voiced by local communities and
citizens. Third, it can help produce solutions that do not actually address the needs and
expectations of local residents. Fourth, this tendency perpetuates a body of knowledge that
fails to capture the reality that is trying to explain. And finally, it increases the gap between
academic work and the problems people face. In the meanwhile, aspects that are required for
social change (such as peoples expectations and aspirations to improve social status) get
Indeed, the resilience framework obscures two important tensions:
(1) The politics of risk reduction: Most techno-academic approaches to resilience assume
that adaptation happens without producing winners and losers. Most studies of
resilience have therefore failed to examine, let alone reveal, the inequalities that exist
or emerge between and within social groups. Our study demonstrates that these
tensions cannot be ignored. In San Andr
es, residents who benefit from individual
wells, for instance, resent public water and sewage systems that they perceive as
polluting. Similarly, residents in Yumbo and Salgar find it difficult to negotiate
conflict with neighbors, particularly when their individual economic benefits impede
potential benefits for others. They perceive that policies that concern the collective
are partisan, and create a gap between individual benefits and those of others.
Environmental challenges are often seen as collective problems,not individual
ones. This has a significant impact in the vernacular explanation of risks, because
residents tend to give priority to individual or family problems such as daily social
and economic concerns, rather than to climate-change effects. Significant tensions
emerge between the needs and expectations of well-established residents and those of
newcomers. Native islanders in San Andr
es, for instance, resent new immigrants
coming from mainland; their presence is seen as a threat that drains on limited water
resources. Well-established residents in Yumbo, similarly, resent that large mining
and manufacturing companies exploit local resources, eroding the environment that
resident enjoyed in the past. In local understandings of exposure and responses to
risks, politics are central.
(2) The responsibility for risk reduction: The resilience framework is based on the premise
that individuals and social groups have (or must develop) strengths that allow them
to cope with risk. However, local residents in our case studies were careful not to be
labelled as responsiblefor solving the problems they face. Instead, they often
mentioned how they have been affected by corrupt politicians, businesspeople, and
landlords who have advanced their own agendas at the expense of residents. Such
narratives suggest an effort to condemn perceived injustices and make claims as to
restitution.Residents in all three areas, Yumbo, Salgar and San Andr
es, convey the
message that local and national governments owethem solutions, benefits that
more privileged citizens have received and they have not. In this sense, they feel that
the government is responsible for correcting unequal distribution of benefits. They
are waiting for the governments response.If anything, citizensexplanations seem
to be more aligned with a narrative of rooted vulnerability based on unequal
distribution of rights and opportunities, and of citizens deprived of government
entitlements, than with a narrative of resilience, whether at an individual, household,
or neighborhood level.
This study faces several limitations. It was conducted by an interdisciplinary group of
academics working in low-income neighborhoods in three cities in Colombia. Our conclusions
might find applicability in other Latin American countries. But more studies are required to
validate whether the resilience framework has had a similar influence in other places.
Additional work is also needed to examine the meaning of certain terms in other Spanish-
speaking nations. Finally, additional studies are required on discourse analysis of resilience
policy in the region.
Conclusions the disconnect between narratives
A gap between academic discourse and local problems may seem unproblematic at first
glance. But academic discourse is increasingly determining urban agendas and policy in
disaster risk reduction in the Global South. Our study shows that authorities in Colombia, for
instance, are increasingly adopting the jargon and concepts developed by academics and
urban consultants in the North. It is necessary to change or adjust these frameworks so that
policy reflects the real needs and expectations of citizens. Better dialogues between
authorities and citizens can exist if vernacular narratives are taken into account and if policy
is made in response to them.
Low-income Latin Americans want effective responses from local governments to basic
needs such as drinking water, jobs and health insurance. They often minimize the importance
of risks derived from natural phenomena and climate change, which are seen to have a lower
probability and frequency of occurrence than other, more pressing, problems. The resilience
framework also makes it difficult to reveal the politics of, and responsibilities for, risk
Frameworks in
disasters and
climate change
The resilience framework has become a recent example of both transculturation and auto-
ethnographic expression, notably among local scholars and decision-makers in Latin
America. There is now a disconnect between vernacular and techno-academic narratives.
These narratives are not actually equivalent and, thus, they are not simply interchangeable.
This disconnect makes it difficult to respond to the real needs and expectations of ordinary
citizens. It contributes to a distortion of agendas. It masks significant realities and peoples
struggle for social justice. New concepts and frameworks are likely needed to halt disaster
risk creation in the region. But they must be built bottom-up,instead of from scholarship to
communities.This study reveals the potential of exploring new research avenues: the study
of aspirational development,instead of informality, the analysis of opportunity seizing,
instead of adaptation, as well as a better understanding of attitudesin the face of risk,
instead of capacities.New frameworks must reveal historic segregation, colonialism,
marginalization and other deep-rooted causes of the disasters that are now being exacerbated
by global warming. Climate change action in the region can hardly be implemented without a
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... Some argue that a concept of resilience is also contradictory as well as meaningless in non-Anglophone contexts. Chmutina et al. (2020) and Lizarralde et al. (2020), for instance, show that ''resilience'' does not reflect local contexts, and its use instead reinforces quasi-imperialist impositions of ideas. Many authors also highlight the current use of the concept, which is predominantly driven by neoliberal ideas of ''growing the wealth of the poor'' (Bracke 2016, p. 52) and using it as a pathway to (re)build the capacity of financial systems and national economies in the aftermath of disasters, thus reinstating the pre-disaster conditions. ...
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... 184). Even more critically, Lizarralde et al. (2020) in interrogating the strangeness of academic theoretical concepts to lived experiences, suggest that any analysis of the current challenges of climate change, or disasters should not be withdrawn from the struggles of social justice. Accordingly, Cretney (2019) has suggested a more dynamic and complex understanding of the politics of disasters, drawing attention to the empirical "everyday", when the de/repoliticization of disaster experience, and interpretations of better futures are constantly contested. ...
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... Concepción, Chile, a medium-size city located in the coast in the central part of the country [67]; d. Yumbo, Colombia, an industrial city located North of Cali [68]; e. San Andrés archipelago, a group of small Colombian islands located in the Caribbean, close to Nicaragua [69]; f. Salgar, Colombia, a city in the mountains of the Antioquia region [70,71]. ...
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Disaster studies is faced with a fascinating anomaly: frequently it claims to be critical and innovative, as suggested by the so‐called vulnerability paradigm that emerged more than 40 years ago, yet often it is perpetuating some of the core and problematic tenets of the hazard paradigm that we were asked to challenge initially. This paper interrogates why such an anomaly persists. In so doing, it employs Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony to unpack why disaster studies is still dominated by Western epistemologies and scholars that perpetuate an orientalist view of disasters. Ultimately, it suggests a research agenda for the 40 years to come, which builds on the importance of local researchers analysing local disasters using local epistemologies, especially in the non‐Western world. Such subaltern disaster studies are to be fuelled by increasing consciousness of the need to resist the hegemony of Western scholarship and to relocate disaster studies within the realm of its original political agenda.