AWARD | Top Cited Article (2019-2020) in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research


My paper with Kenneth Cardenas, “Evicting Slums, ‘Building Back Better’: Resiliency Revanchism and Disaster Risk Management in Manila”, was recognised as a Top Cited Article (2019-2020) in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR), the world’s consistently top ranking urban studies journal.

I am very honoured to receive this recognition, and very pleased to know that it falls on the third anniversary of my Gilbert F. White Thesis Award, given by the American Association of Geographers’ Hazards, Risks, and Disasters Specialty Group at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the AAG in New Orleans.

This paper is part of the Symposium Issue, “Flooding in Asian Coastal Megacities”, edited by Gavin Shatkin, featuring contributions from Liza Weinstein, Andrew Rumbach, Saumitra Sinha, and Kian Goh.

In our article, Kenneth and I forward the concept of resiliency revanchism to characterise Metro Manila’s disaster risk management (DRM) strategy, which we argue is predicated on the mass eviction and relocation of informal settlers. We trace the first shift in Philippine DRM policy to the 2009 Ondoy floods, and cast critical attention on the ways the disaster was constructed, and the ways by which flood projections and solutions further marginalise vulnerable yet undesirable social groups.

We draw on Ulrich Beck’s concept of “risk society”, Löic Wacquant and Tom Slater’s work on “territorial stigma” and “agnotology”, and Asher Ghertner’s idea of “aesthetic governmentality” to critically examine how the deliberate production of ignorance by disaster, climate, and urban expertise constructed anti-slum discourses of flooding, disaster, and resilience, which in turn produced deeply unjust landscapes of risk and resilience in ‘building back better’.

This paper is based on our respective Master’s theses. It synthesises four chapters in mine: Chapter Two (Theoretical and Methodological Frameworks), Three (Why the Slum Had to Go: Territorial Stigmatization, Undesirability, and the Power of Representations), Four (How the Slum Was Made to Go: Aestheticizing ‘Danger Zones’ and Territorializing Risk), and Six (Conclusion).

It is the first of three planned journal articles based on my Master’s thesis. The second, entitled “Benevolent Eviction and Cooperative Housing Models in Post-Ondoy Manila”, was published in the launching issue of Radical Housing Journal, and the third is still in preparation.

2018 GILBERT F. WHITE THESIS AWARD, American Association of Geographers – Hazards, Risks, and Disasters Specialty Group (AAG–HRDSG)


My MA thesis in Sociology, completed at the University of the Philippines–Diliman, won the 2018 Gilbert F. White Thesis Award given by the Hazards, Risks and Disasters Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers (AAGHRDSG) at the 2018 conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. The abstract appears below. 

Maria Khristine Alvarez
Tin Alvarez

Discourses of ‘Danger Zone’ Slum Evictions and the Aestheticization and Territorialization of Disaster Risk in Post-Ondoy Manila

Maria Khristine Alvarez

This thesis asks why disaster-induced evictions focused only on slums and excluded subdivisions with high flood susceptibility. It also inquires into how ‘danger zones’ are delineated and what becomes of evicted spaces; what the implications are of this process of delineation on slum communities; as well as how notions of resilience are crafted and deployed by the state.

Drawing on a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of key informant interviews and documents spanning laws, policy texts, frameworks, plans, project reports, and eviction notices, this thesis seeks to understand the phenomenon of ‘danger zone’ evictions. It explains why only the slum, as both a geographic space and population, was evictable, and how it was made to be so, through an examination of the production of the discourse of evictability. To explain why only the slum had to go, it traces the origins of ‘danger zone’ evictions to the anti-slum discourse of the 2009 Ondoy disaster, as well as describes how these were assembled from narratives of slums-as-blockages and slum unbelonging. It then examines how expert and elite knowledges re-problematized and simultaneously produced the slum as the cause of flood disasters and as the epicenter of disaster and urban climate risk—processes which made the slum the object-target of Metro Manila DRRM policy. To explain how the slum was made to go, this thesis forwards the concept of aestheticization of risk, which it defines as the adjudication of flood/disaster risk based on an aesthetics of danger informed by the territorial stigmatization of the slum. It also proposes the framework of territorialization of disaster risk to understand the phenomenon of ‘danger zone’ evictions. It defines this concept as the attempt by the state to control and expel undesirable populations from the city by demarcating the areas in which they live as dangerous and uninhabitable. This process unfolds in three discursive and material practices: first, in the aestheticization of flood/disaster risk; second, in the delineation of geographies of homelessness and urban marginality as ‘danger zones’; and finally, in the eviction of informal settlers from the city. This study argues that the territorialization of disaster risk drew from expert epistemologies of the Ondoy disaster, and reproduced revanchist imaginaries of flood, disaster, and climate ‘resilience’, which displaced, re-placed, and replaced riparian slum communities. Finally, it forwards the idea of benevolent evictions to describe the manner by which ‘danger zone’ evictions are enacted and urban revanchism is obscured.

Disaster-induced evictions focused only on slums and excluded subdivisions and private enclaves with high flood risk because only informal settlements were defined as ‘danger zones.’ As the basis of evictions, the political category of ‘danger zones’ is at the center of the systematic expulsion of Metro Manila’s informal settlers in the post-Ondoy era. ‘Danger zones’ were defined as the geographies of homelessness and urban marginality, and were therefore delineated according to this definition, which was drawn from a clause on eviction and demolition of the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (UDHA). The classed delineation of ‘danger zones’ led to the dispossession of 6,171 families living along waterways in Pasig City, and some 20,000 families in riparian settlements across Metro Manila. As slums were demolished and informal settlers were removed from the city, evicted spaces were replaced with ‘flood-/disaster-resilient’ infrastructure and linear parks with access roads, or were left barren and overgrown. The state understood resilience as a set of structural mitigation measures to flood-/disaster-proof the city, as well as an urban development agenda obstructed by informal settlers. It defined it, too, in terms of the social capital of affluent residents, as well as of the structural integrity of properly built homes.