Disasters, Adaptation and the Social Contract

Type: Paper
Theme: Hazards, Geography, and GIScience
Sponsor Groups: Development Geographies Specialty Group, Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM (MDT)
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Organizers: Sophie Blackburn
Chairs: Sophie Blackburn


Climate change poses challenging questions about the distribution and negotiation of rights and responsibilities for human protection and wellbeing (O’Brien et al. 2009). Human geographers have long observed the (often yawning) gap between, on the one hand, formal rights and protections that states ostensibly provide for their citizens, and, on the other, on-the-ground realities of mutually constituted poverty and hazard vulnerability. Vulnerability to disasters is increasingly well-recognised as a function of uneven development and exclusionary governance, as is the capacity for extreme events to magnify development and governance failures. Understanding what sorts of protections citizens can expect to receive from state and non-state actors in a warming world is an increasingly urgent issue, and one that may challenge current conceptions of citizenship and just governance.

The social contract has recently emerged as a pertinent framing to these issues, as a language to describe contested relationships of responsibility, legitimacy, trust and reciprocity between scaled governance actors. To date it has been invoked variously in climate, disasters and development literatures, to frame accountability in environmental management (Demeritt 2000, White 2007, Zadek 2006, Castree et al. 2014, Castree 2016), highlight specific development failures which underlie geographies of disaster impact and recovery (Pelling and Dill 2006, 2010), as a mechanism for adaptation (O’Brien et al 2009, Adger et al 2012), evolving state-society relations in post-disaster settings (Siddiqi 2013, Blackburn 2016), and as the building block for more accountable development pathways (Hickey and King 2016). Social contracts have been used in articulating under what conditions governance may be seen as illegitimate or unacceptable (Pelling 2011, Christoplos et al 2016), and to help conceptualise what fairer governance might look like in the future (O’Brien et al. 2009).

This session responds to this emergence of disasters, adaptation and the social contract as a key theme in critical geographical research. It invites contributions, either theoretical or empirical, on any of the following themes:
· Contemporary readings (and critiques) of contractarian theory
· Social contracts as a lens on social justice in disaster settings
· Pathways of emergent citizen agency and state accountability in climate adaptation
· Citizenship formation in post-disaster settings
· The role of social-political trust in shaping geographies of disaster risk, impact and response
· Contested rights and responsibilities for disaster management/preparedness/response
· Boundaries of social acceptance for adaptation pathways
· Evolving social contracts as a transformation pathway


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction Sophie Blackburn King's College London 5 5:20 PM
Presenter Sophie Blackburn*, King's College London, Mark Pelling, King's College London, The Risk Social Contract: a research agenda 20 5:25 PM
Presenter Eija Meriläinen*, Hanken School of Economics, Jukka Mäkinen, Aalto University, Rawlsian Social Contract in Disaster Governance 20 5:45 PM
Presenter Ayesha Siddiqi*, Royal Holloway, University of London, Stories from the frontlines: De-colonising the disaster-conflict space 20 6:05 PM
Discussant Neil Adger University of Exeter, Department of Geography 15 6:25 PM

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