The post disaster city: crisis politics and social change in community led earthquake recovery

Cretney, R 2017, The post disaster city: crisis politics and social change in community led earthquake recovery, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Sciences, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The post disaster city: crisis politics and social change in community led earthquake recovery
Author(s) Cretney, R
Year 2017
Abstract Disasters are events of considerable disruption and disturbance. These destructive events rupture perceptions of normality, and in so doing, shed light on obscured and normalised aspects of society. While communities are commonly understood as first responders to disaster, this thesis presents research that deepens our understanding of how communities engage with recovery and how this influences forms of social and political change. In this context, I draw on critical geographies of crisis and hope to frame the potential that emerges from disruption to foster different forms of change. This involves an understanding of the complex dynamics of political and social change in response to disaster, as well as the inter-connected relationship between community led recovery and the actions of the state in responding to crisis. Through investigating this contestation and politicisation, I provide a rich empirical case study to ground the discourses and practices of a politics of crisis and hope at the everyday level.

To achieve this aim, this thesis documents the ongoing recovery of the city of Christchurch in Aotearoa New Zealand following a devastating series of earthquakes. The Canterbury earthquakes that struck in 2010 and 2011 sent shock waves throughout the city and wider region. Loss of life, injury and widespread damage to residential and commercial properties left the city struggling to move beyond the immediate needs for response and into long-term recovery and reconstruction. While the official recovery process has been characterised by a centralised approach to the social, economic and environmental facets of urban disaster recovery, the actions of community organisations and networks have revealed a wider role for citizen participation and engagement. I employ a post-structural methodology to analyse the role of these community organisations in contributing to social and political change in Christchurch, both through official government processes and through autonomous, and potentially radical, projects of co-creation and experimentation.

The findings of this research present a compelling argument for the important role of community led action in shaping diverse forms of disaster recovery, despite the foreclosure of many formal avenues for participation by a centralised government approach. I draw on theories of exception and post politics to argue that the state crafted a political approach to recovery characterised by a discursive and ideological entrenchment of exceptionality and selective de-politicisation. Crucially, I demonstrate how the opportunities facilitated by the rupture of disaster also provide the grounds for possibility and experimentation that challenge this apparent hegemony of neoliberal governance, while creatively and constructively creating alternative forms of society and economy.

The approach of community led recovery thus renders incomplete the attempted foreclosure of democratic participation and provides radical forms of social and political change in the post-disaster landscape. Through the presentation of in-depth empirical evidence, the actions of community organisations and their integral role in producing hopeful manifestations of disaster recovery is highlighted. These forms of community led recovery represent an integral facet for more widely understanding the role of disaster in contesting and reconfiguring society and politics.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Sciences
Subjects Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)
Human Geography not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) Disaster studies
Disaster recovery
Crisis politics
Disaster politics
Social change
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Created: Fri, 18 Aug 2017, 09:13:23 EST by Denise Paciocco
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