An agnotology of disaster risk reduction and management: Aestheticizing risk in constructing and delineating ‘danger zones’

2017 Philippine Geographical Society – National Conference on Geographical Studies, November 10-11, Quezon City, Philippines


This paper argues that the definition and demarcation of ‘danger zones’, alongside narratives of the slum as the primary cause of the Ondoy disaster, speak to the willful production of ignorance (Slater 2012, 2016), or the agnotology of disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM). I begin by exploring how melding the ‘culpability’ and vulnerability of the slum for Ondoy in particular, and flood disasters in general, created a compelling argument for their removal. The tension between putting the city at risk and being at-risk was translated into ‘danger zones’—a fundamental DRRM concept that lies at the heart of the massive disaster-induced slum evictions across the capital region. I examine the category of ‘danger zones’, beginning with a genealogy of the term as used in Metro Manila DRRM policy. In tracing the origins of the concept, I discuss how slums—and only slums—were rendered evictable by demonstrating that ‘danger zones’ were delineated based on a deeply classed aesthetics of danger targeting informal settlers—a process I describe as the aestheticization of risk. I then explore how this aesthetic governmentality sought a more considerate approach to thinking about and relating to the flood risk of subdivisions in areas of Pasig City with high flood susceptibility. This classed understanding of disaster risk explains how social risks were redistributed onto slums via eviction and relocation, while resiliencies were redistributed onto subdivisions in the form of flood control infrastructure. ‘Danger zone’ evictions accomplished the historically impossible task of clearing entire slum populations across Metro Manila. I argue that this systematic eviction of Metro Manila’s slum dwellers should not be viewed simply as a consequence of or a response to climate change and disasters. Instead, it should be understood as a calculated and opportunistic attempt to rid the city of informal settlers in accordance with an elitist and exclusionary vision of a ‘resilient’ city.

 

Works cited:

Slater, Tom. 2012. “The Myth of ‘ Broken Britain’: Welfare Reform and the Production of Ignorance.” Antipode 46(4):948–69.

Slater, Tom. 2016. “Revanchism, Stigma, and the Production of Ignorance: Housing Struggles in Austerity Britain.” Risking Capitalism (Research in Political Economy) 31:23–48.

Author: Khristine Alvarez

I am a critical urban sociologist, geographer, and political activist previously based in Manila, and currently working on a PhD The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL). I am the recipient of the 2018 DPU 60th Anniversary Doctoral Scholarship Award, as well as the 2018 Gilbert F. White Thesis Award from the Hazards, Risks and Disasters Specialty Group (HRDSG) of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). My PhD research examines how ‘danger zone’ evictions as a consequence and requirement of resilience-seeking in post-Ondoy (2009-present) Metro Manila transformed coastal and riparian corridors in the urban core and created relocation hubs in the periphery. Through a critical genealogy and ethnography of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, it aims to weave a critical account of ‘resilient’ city-making and theorise the new drivers and new modes of dispossession that reconfigure urban and peri-urban space in vulnerable Southern coastal cities.

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