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The changing meaning of disaster

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Adverse events such as disasters are interpreted through a system of meaning provided by culture. Historically, research into society's response to disasters provides numerous examples of community resilience in face of adversity. However, since the 1980s, numerous researchers have challenged the previous optimistic accounts and argue that such incidents result in long-term damage to the community. It is claimed that community response to a disaster episode is far more likely to be defined by its vulnerability than its resilience. This new vulnerability paradigm of disaster response is underpinned by the belief that contemporary technologically driven disasters have a peculiarly destructive outcome. This paper explores the changing conceptualisation of adversity. It suggests that the shift from the expectation of resilience to that of vulnerability is best understood as an outcome of a changing cultural conceptualisation of adversity.

Keywords: adversity; blame; community; disaster; resilience; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, The University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NY, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2007


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