Responding to Disasters: Diversity of Bureaucrats, Technocrats and Local People

March 2003 (VOL. 21, NO. 1)

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The relations between disaster experts, governments, and local people have often been considered problematic in disaster situations. The idea that disasters caused by natural hazard are the ultimate terrain of experts and managers has been discredited by approaches focusing on the capacities and coping practices of local people, while the role of governments in the interplay between experts and local people is often left unclear. This paper reviews some recent insights into the complexity of these relations by introducing the notion of social domains of disaster responses. Social domains are areas of social life where ideas and practices concerning risk and disaster are exchanged, shared and more or less organized because of a certain proximity, physically or discursively, in the ways references are made to disaster and risk. The study of social domains allows one to focus on the everyday practices and movements of actors negotiation the conditions and effects of vulnerability and disaster. The paper first discusses how experts and local people are represented in different subsequent paradigms of disaster studies; elaborates on the importance of social domains for studying disaster response; after which the three domains of disaster science, governance and local people will be discussed.