Bodies of Vulnerabilities: Using the Intersectionality Lens in Disaster Research

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Daniela KRUGER, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Martin VOSS, Freie Universität Berlin, Disaster Research Unit, Germany
Social vulnerability as one core concept of disaster sociology cannot be discussed independently from patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism (Enarson et al. 2007, 132). Feminist approaches highly contribute to the debate on social vulnerability, as they not only ask for specific vulnerabilities of specific actors, but rather scrutinize the social construction of actors, or to be more precise, the bodies that are rendered vulnerable. When a disaster strikes and a social system – i.e. the unit of reference – has been disrupted, research can find a starting point by raising the questions of 'whose system' and 'who defines it' (ibid., 131)? Power and its symbolic dimensions in forming vulnerabilities, bodies and vulnerabilities of the body will be at the centre of the presentation. Research that has been conducted on disaster and gender centres on a substantializing notion of 'women' and their vulnerability, which firstly obscures the power structures associated with different categories of 'women' and 'men'; secondly this very notion neglects an emphasis on the generic vulnerability of a human body. Planning for the adaption to natural hazard induced disasters, research has advocated focusing on women’s capabilities instead of presenting them one-dimensionally as weak individuals (Bradshaw and Fordham 2013). While we sympathize with this methodology we want to broaden the angle and de-construct the gendered notions of vulnerable bodies by integrating an intersectionality lens on masculinities and femininities. Capturing relations of masculinities and femininities in practice refers to struggles of sub-ordinated forms of gender practices that, in turn, relate to dominant forms (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Connell 1995; Halberstam 1998). They find expression in different, socially constructed vulnerabilities of bodies. While the intersectional approach poses an interesting theoretical enterprise, the presentation will conclude on whether this methodological lens challenges a common ground for claims in social justice and forms of representation.