Social Vulnerability in Disasters: Migrants Experiences in Canterbury and Tohoku

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Shinya UEKUSA, University of Auckland, New Zealand
This comparative study employed a ground-up approach to qualitatively explore how immigrants who are linguistic minorities in Christchurch (New Zealand) and Tohoku (Japan) experienced the 2010-2011 disasters, including their coping mechanisms and their perceived social vulnerabilities. Sociological research on disasters has found that disasters affect individuals, families and communities differently, and damage is usually uneven due to the structural inequalities that already exist prior to disasters. Immigrants, refugees and linguistic minorities are typically considered vulnerable in disasters. However, findings drawn from the in-depth interviews demonstrate the fluidity, complexity and contextuality of social vulnerabilities in disasters, possibly suggesting that these people are not necessarily powerless help-seekers in some cases and that we therefore need to re-conceptualize the social vulnerability approach. Using Bourdieu’s capital theory, along with his concepts of habitus and field, this study demonstrates how immigrants, refugees and linguistic minorities were active social agents in these disasters. They individually and collectively generated, deployed and employed a variety of resources/capital to adapt to the rapidly changing situations in which they suddenly found themselves. Furthermore, some study participants had past experiences of going through wars and chaotic events, which made them more “resilient” and disaster “prepared”. As McIntosh (1998) notes, this can be called an example of “earned strength” which can be a significant resource in extreme events for the socially vulnerable. Examples of the way in which these participants individually and collectively coped with disasters can provide practical knowledge drawn from their actual experiences that can help researchers, practitioners and policymakers develop more effective disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster response strategies.