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Disaster Research Ethics

As Hurricane Harvey hits the United States, research will be important to understand what people need, as well as the underlying social, political, economic, infrastructural, and power dynamics at play. This is particularly important for documenting and reporting in terms of uneven distributions of harm within disasters.

Yet, research is not inherently good. After Sandy hit New York City, we saw disaster researchers parachute into hard hit communities, take data, and leave. We saw researchers interview survivors and report survivor insights as their own findings. This is called research theft, and it is usually done by well-intentioned researchers. It is crucial that research ethics in disasters far exceed the usual research ethics set out by universities and other research institutions.

With community input, the following Memorandum of Understanding was designed after Sandy to be a resource for a mutually beneficial researcher-community or academic-activist partnerships. It covers a number of different types of collaborations and partnerships, as well as various issues that might need discussion.

You can download the Template of Memorandum of Understanding for Mutual Aid Research in Disasters here. 

Also see the stable url on our webpage here. 

New Publication: “Disaster Data, Data Activism: Grassroots Responses to Representations of Superstorm Sandy”

Based on her work with Superstorm Research Lab, SRL member Max Liboiron has published a chapter on "Disaster Data, Data Activism: Grassroots Responses to Representations of Superstorm Sandy" in an edited volume on Extreme Weather and Global Media.

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Call for Papers: Resilience and the Anthropocene

This special issue of Resilience: Policies, Practices and Discourses will explore the indeterminate political ecologies opened by the Anthropocene and resilience.

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CFP: Disaster, Environment and Property: historical approaches, 19th-20th centuries

Taking a historic perspective focusing on the 19th and 20th centuries, the conference will explore the interactions between property systems, resources and environments, and the particular class of socio-ecological processes that is disasters. The conference will be held on 2-3 December 2015. Deadline for submission is 15 May 2015.

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“New York’s Two Sandys” published for two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy

SRL members Daniel Aldana Cohen & Max Liboiron have published a summary and update of The Tale of Two Sandys in the latest edition of Metropoltics in time for the three year anniversary of Sandy's landfall in the region. We summarize the two Sandy framework, and then move on to describe the second Sandy based on recent research by community- and advocacy-based organizations.

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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.

CFP: Climate change, disasters and displacement

This issue of FMR, to be published in May 2015, aims to discuss the linkages between climate change, disasters and displacement, the impact of both internal and cross-border displacement, measures to prevent or reduce the likelihood of displacement, and approaches to ensure the protection of those who are displaced (or who are unable to move).

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Workshop: Can Laws Make Communities Safer from Disasters?

You will get a chance to participate in a South Asian legal experts forum to bring about innovative changes required in "Environmental and International Humanitarian Law concerning rescue, relief, rehabilitation and compensation for losses incurred during disasters".

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World of Matter

Ashley Dawson, a prof at CUNY and a friend of Superstorm Research Lab, has helped organize "World of Matter," an exhibit and conference mixing art and academe at the CUNY Graduate Center. Come on Tuesday, September 9th for the reception and book launch, and Wednesday for the conference.

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Sandy Storyline seeking researchers and interns

Sandy Storyline is an award winning participatory documentary that collects and shares stories about the impact of Hurricane Sandy. We are seeking a research volunteer or intern to help us research press, reports, data and other information as part of the ongoing post-Sandy recovery.

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Data activism: Occupy Sandy’s canvassing practices after Hurricane Sandy

If activism is about changing the relations, assumptions, and contests pertaining to power, then data activism is about using data as a central tactic to make these changes.  Read more

Announcing the National Disaster Resilience Competition

Responding to demand from state, local and tribal leaders who are working to increase the safety and security of their communities, the nearly $1 billion competition will invite communities that have experienced natural disasters to compete for funds to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters.

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Hazards and Disasters Fellowship Program for Junior Faculty

This NSF funded Enabling Program is an education and training effort aimed at developing junior faculty to become active scholars in both their individual disciplines and in the broader hazards and disasters research community.

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Occupy Sandy affiliation survey

We are researching how people's affiliations with OWS, Occupy Sandy, and other CBOs and activist groups change over time. The project is meant to show that a metric of success for social movements is how people continue to work in activist/community settings, even after the "end" of public protest. We are looking for people affiliated with Occupy Sandy or OWS to fill out a short, 10 minute survey.

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CFP: Reframing Disaster & Postcolonial Disaster Frames

We consider the politics of remembering, commemorating, and supporting long-term recovery in relation to a range of compound catastrophes that have deep colonial roots. Given that Bhopal, Rwanda, and the Tsunami have all generated significant media interest alongside diverse forms of creative response (from art to social activism), this conference will explore how these and other postcolonial disasters have been defined and represented following the initial event. It will examine the particular challenges posed by different forms of disaster (industrial, environmental, social), and connect these with aid and reconstruction work across multiple sectors.

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New report on the roles of activists and community-based organizations after disasters.

The North Star Fund has released, "From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer," a research and recommendation report drawing on 30 interviews with community-based organizations (CBOs) and participation in dozens of meetings and conferences across the city over the past two years.

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CFP: Third International Conference on Urban Disaster Reduction 5/15

The Third International Conference on Urban Disaster Reduction (3ICUDR) will be held September 28–October 1, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado.

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Misdirection on the Hudson: Walking tour with SRL 5/3

Join SRL members Daniel Aldana Cohen and Liz Koslov for Misdirection on the Hudson: Wall Street, Climate Change, and the Transformation of Staten Island. Our walk begins at the charging bull, where we dissect the little-known ways Wall Street contributes to the climate change behind Sandy's destructive force. Then, on the Staten Island Ferry, we describe Sandy's aftermath for Staten Island residents, and how complex financial instruments—insurance schemes, mortgages, loans—have prolonged the storm's disastrous wake and kept homeowners from rebuilding. Off the ferry, during a quick stroll on the St George Waterfront, we explore what is being built with Wall Street's backing: a designer outlet mall, the hemisphere's largest ferris wheel, a luxury hotel—and a sustainability museum.

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“Fighting for Retreat after Sandy: The Ocean Breeze Buyout Tent on Staten Island”

SRL member Liz Koslov has published an article on “Fighting for Retreat after Sandy: The Ocean Breeze Buyout Tent on Staten Island” in Metropolitics. Ocean Breeze residents are part of a movement for post-Sandy home buyouts that extends across Staten Island’s East and South Shores. These residents want to do a “managed retreat” from the coast, so that their destroyed neighborhoods can be returned to wetlands that would protect nearby areas from future storms.

In the words of one participant, “People here are willing to give up their land to make those places more resilient. As well as trying to get their lives back on track, they’re willing to help other people that live up the beachfront from us. This is monumental.”

Read the full article here.

Workshop on Mutual Aid Research Models and Methods 5/1

As part of Free University, SRL member Max Liboiron will be facilitating a workshop on Mutual Aid Research Models and Methods on Thursday, May 1 at 11AM in Madison Square Park.

Mutual aid is characterized by solidarity (fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests) and reciprocity (mutual, though not necessarily symmetrical, exchange). A mutual aid model does not only seek to “do no harm,” it also strives to reciprocate, to respond, and to cooperate. It takes the processes and practices of research, not only its results, as a place to do meaningful normative & activist work.  We will discuss some existing models and resources for transforming research ethics, methodologies, and methods for mutual aid and how they might be useful to participants. We will conclude by brainstorming other methods for inclusion in a future handbook.