Southern Responses to Disasters: Keynote Address

On 14 September 2017, Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Southern Responses to Displacement PI, was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Disasters Conference, which celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the renowned Disasters journal.

Her keynote (which you can listen to/see by clicking below) addressed key approaches and lenses that have enhanced our understanding in contemporary Disasters Studies, and have – in spite of the major challenges that remain – helped improve responses to disasters around the world.

In particular, Elena argued that academic research to date has demonstrated the necessity of looking back (through historical analyses), looking around us (through geographically sensitive lenses attentive to scale and space, and by acknowledging the significance of Southern-led responses), and through different lenses (including through intersectionalist and interdisciplinary research, and also by questioning the locus of our gaze). These are all key approaches underpinning our Southern Responses to Displacement project.

Drawing in particular on Elena’s research into Southern-led responses to displacement in the Middle East and North Africa, including by Southern states, regional organisations, civil society networks and refugees themselves, in her keynote Elena argued that it is urgent to continue finding ways to develop and implement responses to mass disasters that acknowledge the importance of intersecting identity markers and structures of inequality alike.

In the second half of the presentation, Elena turned to three key themes that are central to Disasters Studies in the 21st Century: migration (including in the context of climate change); conflict-induced forced displacement, and Southern-led responses to disasters. In addition to outlining a series of trends pertaining to each of these, Elena posited the importance of further research into four as of yet under-researched dynamics in the context of each of these themes in Disasters Studies: immobility (which Elena has written about here), refugee-refugee relationality (see here), the overlapping nature of displacement (here), and the potential of ‘South-South Cooperation’ (SSC), which is key to our Southern Responses project.

Elena concluded by inviting us to consider ways to continue advancing research, policy and practice in situations and processes of disaster and displacement in a way that simultaneously acknowledges, and transcends a focus on the ‘experiences’, ‘voices’ and ‘perceptions’ of people affected by displacement.

On the one hand, acknowledging peoples’ ‘experiences’ of disasters, and indeed the ways in which people ‘respond’ to disasters has been key both to improving operational responses in the field, and to recognizing the agency of people who are vulnerable to disasters for various structural and social inequalities. On the other hand, however, it is time to engage directly with individuals and communities affected by disasters simultaneously as agents, and as agents who conceptualise, negotiate and resist the diverse responses that are habitually developed and implemented on their behalf.

To read more pieces by Elena, click here or visit our project’s resource pages for useful articles reflecting on different forms and scales of Southern-led responses to displacement, including state-led internationalist or Pan-Arabist responses, faith-based humanitarianism, and refugee-refugee humanitarianism. A paper based on this keynote will be available in due course. Subscribe to our blog for updates.

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NB. An earlier version of this piece was published on Refugee Hosts in September 2017; the original piece was drafted by Aydan Greatrick.

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