CONTROVERSIAL LIMITS OF DRR (Disaster Risk

Reducing) RESEARCH AND ACTION (R&A): ALWAYS
MORE OF THE SAME? PANEL AND PAPER SESSIONS
(scroll down for the paper session!)
American Association of Geographers annual conference, 5th to 9th
April 2017, Boston

Panel Session
The controversial limits of DRR R&A (1): How to best
manage disasters?
Organizers: Patrick Pigeon (Université Savoie Mont Blanc) and

Julien Rebotier (CNRS-LISST)
Stakes related to disaster prevention have never been higher
during then now. Therefore, it makes sense to find a wide range of
international research programs and a huge amount of already
existing academic production on DRR policies. Yet, a common and
disturbing paradox arises from this huge amount of knowledge
available on disaster and DRR policies. According to this paradox,
the more we know, the more we manage, and yet, the more we
are supposed to lose (White et al., 2001).
This panel session reconsiders this famous paradox, which looks
so much disturbing if not provocative (Pigeon et Rebotier, 2016).
Indeed, societies are today safer than in the past, people live
longer and the quality of life has increased for a larger number of
people than ever before in History, even if it mirrors unequal
conditions. Still, a pervasive sense of insecurity grows parallel:
governments and institutions are increasingly asked to provide
more security and to prevent more disasters.
In the face of such ambiguous statements, on what basis do we
assess disasters and damages? Defining disasters and losses,
so as to value them and to create databases, if not knowledge
management systems (KMS) which integrate already existing
databases and information coming from a wide range of
stakeholders, is a critical issue. But databases and KMS address
nothing but a part of the many controversial limits to DRR R&A,
demanding to reach a broader insight of the issue. If White’s
paradox stresses on the limitations DRR policies still meet, it
should also lead the panel to see how to integrate those
limitations into decision-making processes in DRR field.
The whole argument that reconsiders the paradox relies on three
main points: an ambiguous balance (1), multiple limitations (2),
and still, the necessity to act in spite of long-standing difficulties
(3).
(1)
There is no doubt about the difficulties to evaluate the
evolution of both disasters and their impacts. It is easy

enough to put in perspective the amount of knowledge and
research programs related with DRR policies and damages related
with disasters at different scales. It is much harder to quantify the
damages that have been avoided, or even to shed light on relative
evaluation of damages, along time (Mitchell et al., 2014).
 Might the controversial paradox be reconsidered, because of
the difficulties of valuing losses and the contributions of DRR
policies to prevention? What about the evolution of assets and
stakes, which should be integrated in the assessments?
(2)
A large literature stresses the different kinds of
obstacles, barriers or conditionings, which may explain why
do DRR R&A seem to stall (Wisner et al., 2004; UNISDR, 2015).
Either in terms of databases, conceptual approaches, or policies
and its implementation, there are multiple limitations to achieving
a “good” DRR.
 Is the controversial paradox a biased way to address DRR
R&A balance? Which points would explain why the paradox has
gained international recognition in spite of its limitations? And
which points does the same paradox induce not to consider while
assessing DRR policies outcomes?
(3)
The paradox appears to be stuck to the impossibility to get
rid of disasters and of inescapable damages. But, as such, the
paradox does not shed light enough on the main drivers behind
those limitations DRR policies still meet. The place of uncertainty
and imperfection in both knowledge and action in DRR lacks
acknowledgment. It explains why DRR policies are necessary
and necessarily limited, and why it makes sense not to
stress on limitations only, because it is still possible to act in
spite of uncertainties. Understanding limitations also justifies why
it is so much important to address DRR policies in contextualized
ways, collectively, on shared, fair and open basis. KMS are seen as
new tools for assessing disaster prevention policies and for
contributing to prevent disasters. But how can they be used as
tools helping decision making at local scales is still an issue to be
settled.
 Is a situated and politically rooted analysis of DRR R&A
enough to give sense to the repeated paradox that stems
apparently from most of disaster prevention policies outcomes?
Do KMS or other collective platforms of knowledge and action
contribute to reduce the limitations? At what conditions?
In a 100 minutes panel session, there is no room for addressing so
many controversial issues. Still, not presenting an encompassing
perspective of the limits of DRR R&A makes it impossible to catch
the paradox at stake in-depth. Even worse, neglecting a broader
view blindly reproduces specialized and “siloed” approaches that
fail addressing underlying obstacles.
Drawing on such a big picture of the limits of DRR R&A, the panel
session will target one of the main pillars of the White et al.’s
controversial paradox. Databases are mandatory to evaluate
disasters and impacts, as well as DRR policies, and set shared
balances. But neither facts nor figures do speak for themselves

(nor for everyone)! The panel session will address databases
issues according to the following questions:
- What are the dominant databases, their pros and cons, among
academics and practitioners?
- On what definitions of main concepts (like risk, disasters, etc.)
do databases rely?
- Are there correspondences between DRR databases and the
multiple actors’ experiences of risks and disasters on the ground?
When there are not, which experiences and actors do databases
advocate for, and which ones do they ignore?
- Behind scientific matters and technical issues, what are the
institutional, political, cultural conditionings that frame the
organization and collection of data? How does this weight on
databases outputs?
- Which kind of knowledge is required to fuel DRR databases and
KMS, in conceptual as well as in technical terms? For which use?
- What are the conditions for achieving more shared and open
databases?
Please send questions to the session organizers Patrick Pigeon
(patrick.pigeon@univ-smb.fr)
and
Julien
Rebotier
(julien.rebotier@cnrs.fr).
MITCHELL T., GUHA-SAPIR D., HALL J., LOVELL E., MUIR-WOOD R., NORRIS
A., SCOTTL., WALLEMACQ P.,
2014,
Setting,
measuring
and
monitoring targets for reducing disaster risk. Recommendations
for post-2015 international policy frameworks, Overseas
Development Institute, London, accessed online on September
13th,
2016, http://www.odi.org/publications/8448-settingmeasuring-monitoring-targets-disaster-risk-reductionrecommendations-post-2015-international-policy-frameworks
PIGEON P., REBOTIER J., 2016, Disaster Prevention Policies. A
Challenging and Critical Outlook, ISTE-Elsevier, London-Oxford.
UNISDR, 2015, Global Assessment Report on disaster risk
reduction. Making development sustainable: The future of disaster
risk management, UNISDR, Genève, accessed on line on
September
13th,
2016,https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/42809
WHITE G.F., KATES R.W., BURTON I., 2001, « Knowing better and
losing even more: The use of knowledge in hazard
management », Global
Environmental
Change
Part
B:
Environmental Hazards, vol. 3, n° 3-4, pp. 81-92.
WISNER B., BLAIKIE P., CANNON T., DAVIS I. (dir.), 2004, At Risk, natural
hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters, Routledge, London.

Paper Session – Epistemological and theoretical limits
The controversial limits of DRR R&A (2): Exploring the
temporal dimensions of disasters and DRR
Organizers: Sébastien Nobert (University of Leeds) and
Julien Rebotier (CNRS-LISST)

Discussant: Kevin Grove (Florida International University)
The last decade has been plagued with reports of environmental disasters
impacting the lives of billions of people around the world (e.g. UNISDR
2015). Already this year, 2016, a myriad of disasters has been reported,
ranging from earthquakes and floods to heat waves and wildfires. This has
catapulted environmental hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) to the
forefront of 24-hour news. Some have described this prominence of
disasters as symptomatic of an era in which catastrophes have become
regimes of governance (e.g. Dupuy 2002, Aradau and van Munster 2011).
This Foucauldian take on catastrophes has influenced the development of a
critical geography of risk and hazards, which has mixed Roberto Esposito’s
process of immunization (2011), Ulrich Beck’s notion of reflexive
modernity (1992) and indeed Michel Foucault’s biopolitics (2004) together
to explain the immuno-politics of DRR (e.g. Anderson 2010, Adey and
Anderson 2011, Gove 2014).
This immuno-politics proposes the total protection of valued (neo-liberal)
life through a series of practices (e.g. structural and semi-structural
measures) and ways of thinking such as applying the precautionary
principle, resilience or mitigation (Neyrat 2008). Thus far, critical
geographers have been interested in identifying the ways in which this kind
of politics operates and transforms relations to life (e.g. Grove 2014), while
DRR scholars have instead argued in favour of promoting its development
in a world increasingly defined as being in permanent crisis (White et al.
2001). If these two different streams of the geography of risk and disasters
have made this immuno-politics their centre of attention, they have also
participated in overshadowing other dimensions of disaster politics in the
wider realm of disaster studies more generally (Guggenheim 2014).
One of those dimensions remains the temporalities produced by and
embedded in DRR practices and in disasters themselves. While
temporalities seem to have made a comeback as a subject for geographical
inquiries, what kind of time constitutes the disruptions unfolded by
disasters and DRR practices requires some investigation (Nobert et al.
forthcoming). This question opens up temporal dimensions involved in and
produced by disaster politics, but perhaps more importantly, it leads to an
examination of a facet of disaster management that has too often been left
unquestioned by both DRR critiques and proponents, despite the fact that
time is a major concept in disaster management.
Thus, this session wishes to engage with DRR as a heuristic of social and
environmental relations, making it possible to shed light on the
overshadowed temporalities of disasters and DRR practices more generally.
Topics may include, but are not limited to the following:
 Temporal politics of anticipatory, preparedness and preemptive regimes;
 Temporalities and instrumental rationality in DRR;
 Phenomenological exploration of disasters and hazards;
 Differentiated time production in disaster management;

 Univocal clock-time and multiplicities of times in DRR politics;
 DRR and the production of futures;
 Internal and external times in risk management;
 Time and governmentality;
 Rhythms of disasters.
Please send abstracts (max 250 words) and / or questions to
the
session
organizers
Sébastien
Nobert
(s.nobert@leeds.ac.uk)
and
Julien
Rebotier (julien.rebotier@cnrs.fr) no later than October
15th, 2016.
References:
Adey, P. & Anderson, B. 2011. Event and Anticipation: UK Civil Contingencies and the
Space-Times of Decision. Environment and Planning A, 43:2878-2899.
Anderson, B. 2010. Preemption, Precaution, Preparedness: Anticipatory Action and Future 
Geographies. Progress in Human Geography, 34:777-798.
Aradau, C and van Munster, R. 2011. Politics of Catastrophe: Genealogies of the Unknown,
London: Routledge.
Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.
Dupuy, J-P. 2002. Pour un catastrophisme éclairé: Quand l'impossible est certain. Paris:
Seuil.
Esposito, R. 2011. Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life. Polity: Cambridge.

Foucault, M. 2004. La naissance du biopolitique. Cours au Collège de
France (1978-1979). Paris: Seuil.
Grove K. 2014. Agency, affect and the immunological politics of disaster 
resilience,Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space 32: 240­256.
Guggenheim, M. 2014. Introduction: Disasters as politics—politics as disasters, inTironi,
M., Rodriguez-Giralt, I. & Guggenheim, M. (eds.), Disasters and politics: materials,
experiments, preparedness. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, (Sociological Review Monograph):
1-16.
Neyrat, F. 2008. Biopolitiques des catastrophes. Paris: MF, Collection Dehors.
Nobert, S., Rebotier, J., Valette, C., Bouisset, C. and Clarimont, S. Forthcoming.Resilience
for the Anthropocene? Shedding light on the forgotten temporalities shaping post-crisis
management in the French Sud Ouest, Resilience: International Policies, Practices and
Discourses.
UNISDR, 2015, Global Assessment Report on disaster risk reduction. Making development
sustainable: The future of disaster risk management, UNISDR, Genève, accessed on line on
September 13th, 2016, https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/42809
White, G.F., Kates, E.W. and Burton, I. 2001. Knowing better and losing even more: The
use of knowledge in hazard management, Global Environmental Change Part B:
Environmental Hazards, 3:81-92.