Disasters, Risks, and Resilience


Gah-Kai Leung (Gah-Kai.Leung@warwick.ac.uk)

Kritika Maheshwari (K.Maheshwari@rug.nl)


Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Elizabeth Brake (Rice)

Prof. Colleen Murphy (Illinois)

Third speaker tba


Major disasters and emergencies—such as the 2008-09 financial crisis, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and even future global catastrophic risks—share three common characteristics: one, they are often unpredictable; two, they inherently disrupt what is often considered as the “normal functioning” of individuals, institutions, and communities; and three, given current socio-political-economic conditions, their occurrence in the future is inevitable to a large extent.

These events raise many urgent questions for normative theorists, as the on-going COVID-19 pandemic has made so vividly apparent. For instance, when a disaster strikes, it can stretch institutional resources beyond their immediate capacity to deal with the crisis, foment distrust between citizens and fray social connections. In severe cases, a disaster can even undermine a government’s legitimacy, as exemplified by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This poses questions for both the short- and long-term capabilities of individuals, institutions and governments to respond to external shocks. Moreover, different kinds of disasters may raise different normative considerations, depending on their scope and scale. For example, it might be thought that we should prioritize the most extreme possibilities—such as future global catastrophic risks rather than focus on short term events—for normative investigation.

Disasters raise further problems relating to the appropriate distribution of responsibilities, especially when we consider the international arena. The burdens of disasters and catastrophes fall disproportionately on developing countries (e.g. Dayton-Johnson 2006; Zorn 2018); these burdens may be compounded by the historical injustices of colonialism and present-day global inequalities between the developed and developing worlds. The task for theorists of global justice, then, is to provide an adequate response to the uneven and unequal distribution of vulnerability to disasters across the planet.

Disasters also represent paradigm cases of risky events: even if we have strong epistemic reasons to believe that a disaster is likely to strike in the future, it frequently remains unclear exactly when the disaster will occur, how large it will be and the severity of the post-disaster outcome. Consequently, disaster theory must be attentive to the ethics of risk and uncertainty, as well as the extent of our obligations to future generations who are at risk of suffering impending catastrophes. How to approach this is an urgent task for normative and political philosophers.

Relatedly, addressing and preparing our society to cope, adapt and recover from these events requires building resilience against risky events —or so the conventional wisdom goes. As a theoretical concept, resilience is invoked in order to develop robust institutions for future generations (Global Priority Institute Research Report 2020). It also appears in discussions of climate-related social inequalities (Doorn, Gardoni & Murphy 2019), and is sometimes conceived as a necessary condition for legitimacy and justice (Koler 2016).  However, for the most part, the concept of resilience remains largely under-theorized, and its relation with disaster and risk is not always clear. From a practical standpoint, resilience has infiltrated various policy agendas and institutional frameworks. For instance, the International Monetary Fund (2005) and the World Bank (2006) have increasingly incorporated strategies of resilience into their plans for crisis management. The current pandemic has motivated governments to initiate community resilience for a post-COVID world (such as the UK’s Community Resilience Development Framework). Even so, how resilience should be implemented in practice remains a contested issue.

Further questions to be addressed at this workshop include (but are not necessarily limited to):

(a) What is a disaster? What is resilience? How are they conceptually related to risk?

(b) How should we measure the impact of disasters?

(c) How should we distribute the burdens of disaster mitigation and response?

(d) How should we respond ethically to disasters as cases of risk imposition? Is ‘natural’ or environmental risk different from technological risk in this respect?

(e) What intrinsic or instrumental value does resilience have?

(f) What is the relationship of risk and resilience to other socio-political ideals such as justice, equality, security, liberty, democracy and so on, especially in the case of disasters?

(g) What does it mean to build resilient individuals, institutions, communities, ecosystems?

(h) Whose resilience matters and what should we be resilient against in the case of global catastrophic risks?

(i) What is the relation between resilience and capability theory?

(j) Is resilience a social public good or is resilience a form of political power? If so, then what are its features?

This workshop aims to provide a forum for addressing these and other related questions, against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic. It will unite moral and political theorists interested in the normative issues concerning disasters, risks and resilience with empirical scholars in the interdisciplinary field of disaster studies and practical insights from (e.g.) policymakers and emergency managers. Ultimately, this workshop will set forth a research agenda for tackling disasters, emergencies and global catastrophic risks from normative, practical and policy standpoints.

Submission Information: If you are interested in applying for the workshop, please send an abstract (300-500 words) prepared for anonymous review to manceptdisasters2021@gmail.com by June 13th 2021. Abstracts should be accompanied by a non-blind cover sheet listing the speaker’s name, institutional affiliation and contact details. Each speaker will be allotted 15-20 minutes for presentation and 25-30 minutes for discussion. We especially welcome submissions from underrepresented groups.

Conference Information: This conference will be held online (BST). Registration will open in May. All participants are required to register. The fees for MANCEPT Workshops 2021 are as follows:

Academics: £45

Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20

Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

A small number of bursaries (for graduate students only) are available. Please state in your application whether you intend to apply for a bursary.