Contesting cyclones and citizenship: the politics of risk expertise following Cyclone Ockhi in Kerala, India.

Authors: Anna Bridel*, London School of Economics
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: coproduction, epistemology, vulnerability, risk, cyclone, Kerala
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geographic research in climate change adaptation (CCA) has been seeking to engage more with the politics of how and why certain social groups are more vulnerable to suffering than others. However the relationships between risk knowledge and governance have historically been under-theorized. In response, scholars have been using the conceptual frameworks of governmentality, cultural theory and most recently assemblage-theory to examine the embeddedness of risk policy in relations of power, culture and politics.

This paper proposes orientating analyses of disaster risk through a more epistemological lens as a way of unpacking and analyzing the contested politics of disaster policy. Through an empirical analysis of events surrounding Cyclone Ockhi in Kerala, India during December 2017, it combines two conceptual frameworks – coproduction (Jasanoff 2004) and discourse coalitions (Hajer, 1983) – to analyze the complex and contingent ways that knowledge and governance interact in policymaking.

It shows how three discourses of cyclone risk governance, which are ostensibly shared by two agonistic groups – government policymakers and traditional fishing communities – actually represent sites of struggle to define the terms of democratic citizenship. It grapples with three questions. How do expert notions of risk emerge in the context of cyclones in Kerala? What is at stake in struggles to stabilize them? And, how can the conceptual frameworks used in this analysis help scholars to encourage debates about vulnerability by advancing discussions of the relationship between knowledge and governance of climatic disasters?

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