Histories of (un)natural disasters: knowledge, blame and defences

Session CfP for the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2009, Manchester, UK, 26-28th August 2009

“Natural” disasters are just as social as they are natural. Their impact depends heavily on social issues such as vulnerability while the work done by society to mitigate their impact is obviously social. However, social aspects of “natural” disasters have often been neglected and they have frequently been understood as caused solely by nature or by divine intervention. The different causal narratives of disasters have given rise to different understandings of responsibilities and blame. Despite their recurrent nature these sudden extreme events are often portrayed as exceptional.

This session will explore the histories of (un)natural disasters across time and space. Paper proposal on any aspects related to any aspects of this topic are welcome. A general theme may be how knowledge and practices have worked to change the likelihood, nature and impact of disasters. How have physical and human geography interacted around disasters historically?

Papers for the session could for example discuss how natural disasters have been framed as “natural” and/or “social” and the implications of different framings. How has the knowledge or understanding of disasters as “natural”, “Acts of God” or “social” developed throughout history? Who or what was blamed?

Today the impacts of these events are managed by warning systems, emergency planning and physical defences. These systems have a long history, and are dependent on complex scientific and social networks. What is this history and how does it link to narratives of causality and blame? For example, whose responsibility have extreme events been seen to be and whose work was it to deal with the consequences of them? Who paid for defensive work? Individuals or the state? National or local government? What were views on how defensive work should be organised?

Many other topics are also possible. If you are interested in submitting a paper, please contact Anna Carlsson on anna.carlsson@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk. The deadline for submission of abstracts is February 3rd 2009. Please include the following information:
Contact email:
Title of proposed paper:
Abstract (no more than 250 words):
Any technical requirements (video, data projector, sound, etc.):