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Disasters and crises: Local interpretation, prevention and coping within the context of external influences

Duration: 2001 - 2007

Project leader: Dieter Neubert

Project collaborator: Elísio Macamo

Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG): 2001 – 2007 (under SFB/FK 560 "Lokales Handeln in Afrika im Kontext globaler Einflüsse")


Project description

Disasters attract global media interest in this information society and both emergency aid and disaster relief are central to development cooperation. Public opinion considers these measures to be positive as an expression of committed humanitarianism. Disasters as such just as the need for and the question whether aid makes sense do not appear to require any further justification.

Debates within the social sciences seem to offer at least some points for a more detailed analysis. The sociology of disasters as well as the critique of development aid have led to a differentiated disaster concept, one which is more open to social processes. At the same time as the relevance of the local perspective is acknowledged it tends to be reduced to the issue of how communities functionally secure their survival. A more precise understanding of crises and disasters requires the articulation of different approaches to interpretation, i.e. global reference systems based on scientific results on the one hand, and local practices and perception on the other. The concept "local knowledge" provides a useful starting point for analyzing the local perspective which, as yet, has not been used consistently to approach the subject of crises and disasters. Moreover, the theoretical implications related to the sociology of knowledge underlying the conceptual and methodological framework of this type of approach (research in the field of sociology of knowledge within the context of a foreign culture) have not been taken up.

The aim of this study is to describe and analyze the local interpretation, prevention and control of crises and disasters on the basis of Mozambique as an empirical example. Underpinning this aim is the central conceptual question concerning the constitution of (local) knowledge about crises and disasters and the articulation of external (global) influences with local interpretations and concrete social practices.

The research question is based on the assumption that prevention and coping are essentially structured by the actors according to dominant interpretations of crises and disasters. Interpretations, however, are assumed to be based on local knowledge. Local knowledge is in itself dynamic and flexible and constitutes itself by combining locally available knowledge (including explanatory frameworks) with externally accessible knowledge as well as conceptual innovations. External knowledge (partly based on Christianity, partly on science) lays claim to a universal interpretation framework to an extent where external scientifically influenced notions come into opposition with local knowledge and interpretations. This study deals both with the resulting tense relationship and the mutual influence that local and external (global) knowledge have on each other.

The study is based mainly on fieldwork using qualitative social research methods (guideline interviews, narrative interviews, group discussions, indirect observation) supplemented by standard procedures. Additionally, it is envisaged that archival research and analysis of official documents and "grey" publications be undertaken in order to study external (global) influences.


Literature from the Project

2008: Elìsio Macamo & Dieter Neubert: Erwartung an Sicherheit. Subjektive Katastrophenwahrnehmungen und Bedingungen der Bewältigung am Beispiel Mosambiks und Deutschlands. In: Karl Siegbert Rehberg (Hg.), Die Natur der Gesellschaft. Verhandlungen des 31. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie. Frankfurt: Campus.

2006: Macamo, Elísio: Accounting for Disaster – Memories of War in Mozambique. In Afrika Spectrum, Vol.41, Special Issue: Memory cultures; S.199-219.

2005: Macamo, Elísio & Jöckel, Andrea: Andere Länder, andere Katastrophen: zur lokalen Wahrnehmung und Erfahrung von Krisen und Katastrophen am Beispiel von Mosambik und Sudan. International Textbook Research, Vol.27, Pp.389-402.

2005: Neubert, Dieter & Elìsio Macamo: Wer weiß hier was? „Authentisches“ lokales Wissen und der Globalitätsanspruch der Wissenschaft. In: Loimeier, Roman, Dieter Neubert & Cordula Weißköppel (Hg.), Globalisierung im lokalen Kontext – Perspektiven und Konzepte von Handeln in Afrika. Berlin, Hamburg, Münster: Lit Verlag, 237-275.

2004: Elìsio Macamo & Dieter Neubert: Die Flut in Mosambik – Zur unterschiedlichen Deutung von Krisen und Katastrophen durch Bauern und Nothilfeapparat. Nikolaus Schareika & Thomas Bierschenk (Hg.), Lokales Wissen Sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven. Berlin, Hamburg, Münster: Lit Verlag, 185-207.

2003: Macamo, Elísio mit Lars Clausen and Elke Geenen (Hg): Entsetzliche soziale Prozesse. Theoretische und empirische Annährungen. Hamburg: Lit. Verlag.

2003: Krüger, Fred, Macamo, Elísio: Existenzsicherung unter Risikobedingungen. Sozialwissenschaftliche Analyseansätze zum Umgang mit Krisen, Konflikten und Katastrophen. Geographica Helvetica, Heft 2.

2003: Macamo, Elísio, Neubert, Dieter: The Politics of Negative Peace : Mozambique in the Aftermath of the Rome Cease-Fire Agreement. Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies 10, Pp.23-48.

2003 Macamo, Elísio mit Lars Clausen and Elke Geenen (Hg): Entsetzliche soziale Prozesse. Theoretische und empirische Annährungen. Hamburg: Lit. Verlag.

2003: Macamo, Elísio: Nach der Katastrophe ist die Katastrophe. Die 2000er Überschwemmung in der dörflichen Wahrnehmung in Mosambik. In: Clausen/Geenen/Macamo (Hg): Entsetzliche soziale Prozesse.Theoretische und empirische Annährungen. Hamburg: Lit. Verlag.

2003: Neubert, Dieter und Macamo, Elísio: Wer weiß hier was. „Authentisches“ lokales Wissen und der Globalitätsanspruch der Wissenschaft. In: N. Schareika, T. Bierschenk (Hg.), Lokales Wissen – Sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven. Münster. Lit. Pp.93-122.

2002: Macamo, Elísio: Die Weltbank, der IWF und das Streben nach Perfektion in Mosambik. In: Zeitschrift für Sozialökonomie, 39 (132). Pp.34-40.


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