Rivalling Disaster Experiences

The Case of the Seismo-Volcanic Crisis of El Hierro, Canary Islands

People experience disasters very differently. Conflicts about a »correct« interpretation of the risks might arise. The side-by-side of different truths lead to people seeing mismanagement and disinformation. The volcanic crisis of El Hierro shows how rivalling interpretations amongst affected islanders, the media, sciences, and disaster response institutions cause great social tensions and scepticism towards scientific information. Thus, to fully understand disaster risk, the focus must shift to the rifts between established convictions and the individuals' creativity to overcome them, taking into account their embeddedness in various fields of practice, each with their own rationales and ruptures.

»This is a masterly study which shows how difficult it has become to innovate policies of disaster risk reduction and information management in a world where there are multiple on-line sources of information of differing quality, and where there is widespread scepticism about polic makers, scientists and politicians. Benedikt Orlowski has produced a most impressive account of the 2011-12 Seismo-Volcanic Crisis in the Canary Islands. The author adopts an anthropological approach and, by imbedding himself with the cultural milieu of El Hierro, is able to discuss both the complexities of culture and the issues involved in developing policies disaster risk reduction.«
(Revd. Professor David K. Chester, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool)

€60.00 * $75.00 *

4 February 2021, 278 pages
ISBN: 978-3-8376-5512-4

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Benedikt M. Orlowski

Benedikt M. Orlowski, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Deutschland

1. Why did you choose this topic?

By chance, during a field trip on La Palma back in 2012, I learned about the underwater volcanic eruption of El Hierro. Several local volcanologists arranged the trip and I noticed that there were heated debates about the ›correct‹ interpretation of the risks with respect to the seismo-volcanic event. Apparently, the social tension between scientists, politicians, the media and the public became a greater ›threat‹ to the effective management of the crisis than the volcanic hazard itself. I was intrigued by this and decided to find out why such disputes occur and how individuals cope with them.

2. What new perspectives does your book offer?

Most work takes as its focus the constitution of different dealings with risk, I concentrate on the ruptures and dynamics in-between. Rivalling interpretations of risk should not be understood as an exceptional phenomenon, an undesirable side effect or generally as an ›flaw in the system‹. Rather, different dealings and the resulting ambiguities are core elements that determine how societies experience crises and disasters. Or more to the point, the clash between different rationales is the real disaster.

3. What makes your topic relevant for current research debates?

In the context of the ongoing climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic it is evident that rivalling interpretations are causing profound social conflicts. Obviously, the negative effects of these conflicts are a growing challenge for the management of crises. The methodological and theoretical frameworks provided in this book contribute to a better understanding of such phenomena.

4. Choose one person you would like to discuss your book with!

I would love to discuss the book with a politician or disaster manager who still sees and handles disasters as if they were purely ›natural disasters‹ and thus ignores the social aspects, dismissing all actions outside of his or her ›box‹ as irrational. Different groups experience the disaster completely differently and therefore naturally develop creative solutions for dealing with ›their‹ risks. Actions that are denounced as ›irrational‹ from one perspective may appear perfectly rational from the everyday logic of the actors. If this is ignored, disaster management becomes a disaster in itself.

5. Your book summary in one sentence:

It is the nature of a disaster that we all experience a different disaster.

Book title
Rivalling Disaster Experiences The Case of the Seismo-Volcanic Crisis of El Hierro, Canary Islands
transcript Verlag
kart., Dispersionsbindung, 12 SW-Abbildungen, 39 Farbabbildungen
Commodity Group
SOC015000 POL044000
Release date
4 February 2021
Zivilgesellschaft, Mensch, Natur
Geography, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Disaster Sociology, Media Studies
Disasters, Culture, Media, Crisis, Risk, Disaster Mitigation, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Nature, Human, Civil Society, Cultural Geography, Human Ecology, Environmental Policy, Geography

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