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Title:Floods, favors and fixes: the reproduction of vulnerability in Santa Fe, Argentina
Author(s):Colette, April L
Director of Research:Ribot, Jesse C
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Ribot, Jesse C
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Olshansky, Robert; Chhatre, Ashwini; Cidell, Julie
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic Information Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Defined as the probability of a threat of damage, injury or loss, risk is a combination of hazard and vulnerability. Without hazard there is no risk. Without vulnerability there is no risk. Vulnerability – the predisposition to damage – is precisely what determines the impact of a particular hazard. Both hazard and vulnerability are necessary to create disaster. Guarding against hazard by reducing exposure is one approach to averting or preventing disaster. But it is only part of the security equation. Vulnerability reduction is the other. While the interaction between hazard and vulnerability is recognized in the literature as fundamental in shaping disaster risk, the solutions that emerge in practice tend to focus on the hazard. Most rely on large-scale infrastructure to reduce physical exposure to hazards. But these solutions rarely address the social, political and economic factors that make people vulnerable in the first place. Taking the case of Santa Fe, Argentina – a city with a long history of floods – to illustrate this point, this dissertation explores why people in the city remain vulnerable despite the government’s responses to risk. It is not that the city’s infrastructural solutions have failed to reduce risk. Rather, the solutions themselves are also part of the problem: they occlude social and political causality on the vulnerability side of the risk equation. I argue that the complex and non-linear relations between people and government, rather than the hazards themselves, produce the most damage precisely because they shape access to the physical, social and political protections that structure vulnerability. These relations also shape responses to risk and govern access to resources that could facilitate adaptation (but tend to produce maladaptation). Rather than focus on the flood events themselves, this study analyzes the way risk is framed and the solutions that emerge from that framing. These solutions are predominantly physical infrastructure, which have produced, both materially and discursively, unequal flood risk. For over a century, the state has engineered the floodplain by constructing a variety of infrastructure including canals, stormwater drains, bridges, embankments and pumping stations to cross the rivers or to prevent floods. Through their materiality, infrastructure carved out spaces in the city, designating the organized and “moral” spaces for the wealthy and middle classes and the disorganized and “immoral” spaces for the poor and lower classes. They created a distinction between riskier and more protected areas, shunting the poor into neighborhoods more exposed to flooding. Not only did these infrastructure physically transform the urban landscape, they also shaped society through discourse, which reinforced and normalized the uneven distribution of risk. By routing residents’ affective responses to the city’s risky and safe spaces through a discursive field defined by high modern ideals, those who settled on low-lying land were labeled as inferior and immoral. This study highlights the invisible power of discourse which results in the non-questioning and normalization of risk. By centering my analytical focus on how infrastructure are powerful material, social, political, discursive and relational agents, I show how infrastructure both produce and are produced by people’s (both government and individuals) notions of what and who is at risk. Crucially, I argue that the discursive production of risk becomes part and parcel of the construction of the material and social world by projecting framings of risk that shape vulnerability and belonging in the contemporary city.
Issue Date:2015-12-02
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 April Lynn Colette
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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