Risky everyday: Southeast Asian perspectives
In this e-book, we take a perspective ‘from below’ and focus on people’s experiences of risk and disasters, as well as on people’s interpretations of risk. Key questions to the contributors are: How do people themselves view the risks that they face and/or take in their everyday lives? How do they interpret and live with risks? How do people’s perceptions and interpretations conflict or correspond to those of government officials and scientific advisors? In the end, what are the risk behaviour outcomes? Such questions crucially need to be raised in studies of the ‘risky everyday’.
Climate changes, environmental degradation, urbanization and increasing economic and political inequality all have added new categories of vulnerable people and fragile livelihoods to the lexicon of disaster risk and natural hazard (Wisner & Gaillard, 2009; Wisner et al., 2004). Although Western social sciences typically depict intensive risk-events as abnormal occurrences, Bankoff has pointed out that some local communities and individuals have come to accept hazard and disaster as a frequent life experience. This certainly also counts for smaller, more structural types of ‘everyday risk’ as the ones described above. For communities that are used to living with the unpredictable, such threats should not be perceived as abnormal occurrences - as they are still too often when depicted through the epistemological lens of Western social sciences - but as normal everyday events (Bankoff 2006): ordinary people engage in a ‘normalization of threat’ (Bankoff, 2004: 102, 109).
Natural events that seem straightforward, such as floods or volcanic eruptions, may be made complex and more damaging because of conflict situations and extreme polarity between rich and poor. This intellectual complexity and inclusiveness is mirrored in an emerging policy consensus that poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and risk reduction have to be pursued as a comprehensive whole. But such a comprehensive approach to development and disaster implies that previously – and currently – neglected forms of everyday risk, uncertainty and coping must be taken into account.
This e-book intends to contribute to a better academic understanding of the ways in which people in Southeast Asia interpret, experience and cope with everyday risk. In each of the articles, specific attention is paid to the oft-overlooked riskiness that is inherent to many people’s daily lives, as well as to emic (inside) interpretations of risk (IFRC, 2015). Two common themes are touched upon: ‘the everyday’ and ‘risk and uncertainty’. Viewing the lives of urban and rural dwellers through these lenses offers the potential of deepening theoretical as well as practical insights into everyday endurance of extreme situations. Most chapters in this collection begin with the idea that people who live with daily risks perceive these as a part of daily life. If we consider that many vulnerable communities are used to living with the intermittent threat and uncertainty, it can be argued that such hazards should not and cannot be perceived as abnormal, exogenous occurrences, but instead they must be perceived as rooted in the social and environmental relations that characterise normal or daily life (Hewitt, 2007). From an everyday risk-perspective, we can anticipate that people facing such risk find themselves largely acting according to their routine and daily practices. It is these daily practices of people and the establishment of ‘normality in extreme situations’ that is the core focus of this e-book.
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