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CFP: Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape

Call for Papers for the 2015 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL. April 21-25, 2015

 Session Title: “Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape”

Session Organizers: Erin C. Bergren (UC Berkeley), Esther G. Kim (UC Berkeley)

Format: Paper presentations, followed by a facilitated discussion between presenters and audience


Our session begins with the understanding that disasters are catalytic processes which emerge from existing social relations and also have the power to trigger further change in socio-ecological systems (Watts 1983; Pelling and Dill 2010). This CFP seeks to engage in conversation with other scholars who apply the concepts of hazardscape and discourse as critical tools for better understanding these processes and relations behind environmental disasters.

The recent literature on environmental risks and vulnerabilities examines the dimensions of the produced hazardscape. As described by Cutter, Mitchell, and Scott, a hazardscape is a “mosaic of risks and hazards that affect people and the places they inhabit” (2000, p. 715). Mustafa takes an overtly political approach and refers to hazardscape as a “way of seeing that asserts power and as a socio-environmental space where the gaze of power is contested and struggled against to produce the lived reality of hazardous places” (2005, p. 566). Khan, Crozier, and Kennedy (2012) then extend hazardscape into the cognitive or behavioral sphere, adding locally-mediated perceptions of hazard and susceptibility to the physical and political dimensions noted above. The concept of hazardscape, then, emerges as a valuable tool for analyzing how disasters are produced by local hazard systems and the social-ecological relations of power and difference which modulate these systems.

Disasters, of course, are produced discursively as well as materially, and this session is also concerned with utilizing discourse as a critical theoretical tool. Described by Hajer as “a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categorizations that are produced, reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of practices and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities” (1995, p. 44), discourse provides another analytic lens with which to unpack the construction of disaster. As the sociopolitical elements of hazardscapes illustrate, disasters are powerfully shaped by the ideas and meanings behind risk, hazards, and human/nature relationships (Bankoff 2001; Wisner et al 2004; Steinberg 2000). By explicitly utilizing discourse as a theoretical tool, we wish to investigate how discursive constructions of disaster intersect with the ways that hazardscapes are (re)produced, experienced, and resisted. At a more essential level, this session asks how discourse contributes to the construction of disasters, the reconfiguration of the urban hazardscape, and the different lived, embodied experiences of such a hazardscape.

Although hazardscapes can be found in every part of the world, we seek to examine the politics and production of hazardous landscapes within an urban context. As more and more of the global population come to reside in urban environments and as cities materialize from unique configurations of social and ecological factors, the ways in which discourse and hazardscapes converge to produce and/or respond to disasters is an important field of scholarly inquiry.

Papers can explore, but are not limited to, the following topics:

●     Uneven distributions of urban environmental hazards.

●     Opportunities for discursive contestation originating in disastrous situations.

●     Hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses of hazards, risk, and vulnerabilities.

●     How urban natures are framed in the discourse of disaster.

●     The different perceptions and experiences of disaster in urban, suburban, peri-urban contexts.

●     The impact of climate change to the construction and experience of hazards.

●     Case studies of disaster and hazards in Global South contexts.

●    Approaches in critical geography, political ecology, environmental justice.

Please submit abstracts to and  by Friday, October 31. We will get back to you by Monday, November 3.  



Bankoff, G. (2001). Rendering the world unsafe:‘ vulnerability ’as western discourse. Disasters, 25(1), 19-35.

Cutter, S. L., Mitchell, J. T., & Scott, M. S. (2000). Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: a case study of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90(4), 713-731

Khan, S., Crozier, M. J., & Kennedy, D. (2012). Influences of place characteristics on hazards, perception and response: a case study of the hazardscape of the Wellington Region, New Zealand. Natural Hazards, 62(2), 501-529

Mustafa, D. (2005). The Production of an Urban Hazardscape in Pakistan: Modernity, Vulnerability, and the Range of Choice. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95(3), 566-586

Pelling, M., & Dill, K. (2010). Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes. Progress in Human Geography, 34(1), 21-37

Steinberg, T. (2000). Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watts, M. (1983). On the poverty of theory: natural hazards research in context. In K. Hewitt (Ed.), Interpretations of Calamity (pp. 231-262). Boston: Allen and Unwin

Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., & Davis, I. (2004). At Risk: natural hazards, people’s vulnerability, and disasters (Second ed.). London: Routledge.