On 14 September, Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Refugee Hosts PI, was invited to deliver the keynote address at the recent ODI Disasters Conference, which celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the renowned Disasters journal. Her keynote (which you can listen to/see by clicking above) addressed key approaches and lenses that have enhanced our understanding in contemporary Disasters Studies, and have – in spite of the major challenges that remain – helped improve responses to disasters around the world.
In particular, Elena argued that academic research to date has demonstrated the necessity of looking back (through historical analyses), looking around us (through geographically sensitive lenses attentive to scale and space, and by acknowledging the significance of Southern-led responses), and through different lenses (including through intersectionalist and interdisciplinary research, and also by questioning the locus of our gaze). These are all key approaches underpinning our Refugee Hosts project.
Drawing in particular on Elena’s research into local and Southern-led responses to displacement in the Middle East and North Africa, in her keynote Elena argued that it is urgent to continue finding ways to develop and implement responses to mass disasters that acknowledge the importance of intersecting identity markers and structures of inequality alike. In the second half of the presentation, Elena turned to three key themes that are central to Disasters Studies in the 21st Century: migration (including in the context of climate change); conflict-induced forced displacement, and Southern-led responses to disasters. In addition to outlining a series of trends pertaining to each of these, Elena posited the importance of further research into four as of yet under-researched dynamics in the context of each of these themes in Disasters Studies: immobility (which Elena has written about here), refugee-refugee relationality (see here), the overlapping nature of displacement (here), and the potential of ‘South-South Cooperation’ (SSC).
Elena concluded by inviting us to consider ways to continue advancing research, policy and practice in situations and processes of disaster and displacement in a way that simultaneously acknowledges, and transcends a focus on the ‘experiences’, ‘voices’ and ‘perceptions’ of people affected by displacement. On the one hand, acknowledging peoples’ ‘experiences’ of disasters, and indeed the ways in which people ‘respond’ to disasters has been key both to improving operational responses in the field, and to recognizing the agency of people who are vulnerable to disasters for various structural and social inequalities. On the other hand, however, it is time to engage directly with individuals and communities affected by disasters simultaneously as agents, and as agents who conceptualise, negotiate and resist the diverse responses that are habitually developed and implemented on their behalf.
We would like to thank the ODI for hosting this conference, and look forward to continuing our conversations on this theme in the coming years.
To read more pieces by Elena, click here, or visit our project’s resource page for useful articles reflecting on conflict-induced displacement; local and Southern-led responses to displacement; and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of conflict and displacement more broadly. A paper based on this keynote will be available in due course. Subscribe to this blog for updates.