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Legitimizing Expertise: The relationship between temporality and performance during the May 2014 floods in Obrenovac, Serbia

Authors: Ruth Trumble*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Political Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, East Europe
Keywords: temporality, geopolitics, distributed preparedness, emergency response, flood
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In May 2014, three months’ worth of rain fell in three days causing the largest flooding in Serbia’s recorded history. After the flood arrived in Obrenovac, Serbia, all 32,000 residents had to be evacuated, making Obrenovac the focus of both disaster response and media coverage. Local and international actors rose to prominence while state actors were criticized for a slow reaction. These events posed a sharp contrast to the Obrenovac flood of 1981 when the Yugoslav system of distributed preparedness was successful in preventing that flood event from becoming a disaster. The redistribution of actors’ roles in disaster response, which occurred between the 1981 and 2014 floods, reveals the reorganization of state responsibilities in Serbia for disaster preparedness. I use discourse analysis of archival materials, recent news media, and semi-structured interviews with those affected by the 2014 floods to explore how the intersection of performance and temporality – during response to an emergency event – legitimizes certain actors over others. Drawing from critical disaster studies and political geography literatures, I discuss how these two flood events shaped the legitimacy of actors involved in flood responses in Obrenovac. The broader geopolitical history of the region influences the mobilities, discourses, and perceptions of the actors. Legitimacy is honed through the speed of response and the performances of those involved.

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