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A geographers’ imperative? Research and action in the aftermath of disaster

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After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 a number of academics published texts in attempts to make sense of the disaster. Frustrations and feelings of inability to do something useful to assist were expressed. The academic discussions arising from the disaster may be linked with more general discussions around conducting relevant and responsible research in the social sciences. This paper addresses the role of researchers in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka and explores how the debate following the tsunami can move on to refine researchers’ roles in geography by way of participatory action research (PAR), a research strategy that has received limited attention in research on disasters. The paper begins by situating the debate in the spatial politics of humanitarian work and academic research. Then discussions that arose among geographers in the aftermath of the tsunami are presented and potentials for conducting responsible research by engaging with the field are introduced. In the final section, starting with the notion of responsible research, how PAR can potentially bring us forward in developing principles and tools for more responsible geographical research in the context of emergencies is discussed.

Keywords: disasters; emergencies; ethics; participatory action research; responsible research; tsunami

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4959.2009.00329.x

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway, Email: cathrine.brun@svt.ntnu.no

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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