RN8 - Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis

RN coordinator:

Nina Blom Andersen, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark



The purpose of ESA RN08 Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis Research Network (DCSCRN) is to promote the study, research and analysis of natural, technological and social disasters with a view to contributing to the development of disaster-resilient European communities and preventing or mitigating the human, economic, social, cultural and psychological effects of disasters.

A number of questions may be considered relevant for both the European and global contexts in the RN08 sessions and touch on the general ESA conference theme ‘Differences, inequalities and sociological imagination’:

  • How is sociological imagination unfolded within the disaster, conflict and social crisis research?
  • How are well known inequalities reinforced and how are new forms of inequality produced during crises and disastrous events?
  • How can differences such as gender, social class, age and ethnic background be conceptualized in our research field?

What kind of theoretical and methodological issues within the disaster, conflict and social crisis research are important to discuss in 2015?

We welcome papers from people who have research, teaching and/or practical experience with the topics of the network but particularly those that engage with the conference theme and with key theoretical methodological and research issues in the field of disasters, social conflicts, social crises and crisis policies or practices.

1. General session


2. Specific session: Post-disaster recovery: understanding social relationships in the ‘new normal’

The old idea of recovery as linear progress towards a restoration of pre-disaster normality has been superceded by more sophisticated understanding.  It is now recognised that recovery is complex, exhibiting multiple and diverse patterns of change, and having no fixed end point. Moreover, it takes place in a ‘new normality’: a context that is, to some extent, irreversibly altered by the disaster itself.  Disaster recovery also remains under-researched. There is considerable literature on housing reconstruction but relatively little on altered relationships and trajectories of change after disasters.  This session will explore how patterns of recovery, formal and informal, affect different social groups or institutions and the relations between them in the short and long terms.  It is hoped that presentations will cover many aspects of recovery (e.g. psychological, social, economic, institutional, political) to open up a debate on its social significance in the broadest sense.


3. Specific session: Sociological imagination, inequalities and disaster resilience: which future connection for a resilient society?

Disasters and crises have always been part of human life. In the last sixty years, sociology has been involved in the study and research of how communities, people and professionals behave in the aftermath of critical events (natural as well as caused by human action).

Considering the changing context of the globalized world, sociologists are at a turning point for the future of their discipline. Consequently, more attention should be focused on possible disaster resilient actions within the changing social process of disaster response.

These topics are related to the effects of inequality dynamics reinforced and produced during disasters and the aspects of social vulnerabilities directly linked to the diverse level of disaster exposure and the consequent possibility of disaster response, disaster resilience and access to aid. 

Two of the present core questions for sociologists are:

  • How previous social vulnerabilities and inequalities could affect the disaster resilience response and relief during and after a crisis and disaster?
  • What could be the role of sociological imagination in the disaster planning response?

These aspects critically involve the role of sociology and the definition of disaster sociological imagination in terms of the disaster resilience community and adequate disaster response.

The aim of this session is to analyze traditional and new theoretical and methodological aspects concerning the relevant issue of disaster resilience and social inequalities.

Specifically, this session will explore the current sociological analytical framework to discuss best and future practices and studies aimed at improving the disaster resilience process in a more democratic and equal society.


4. Specific session: Infrastructures of Preparedness: Conceptual Issues, Empirical Openings

In social science literature and science and technology studies, infrastructures have been understood as those vital systems without which societies cannot function: embedded inside other structures, transparent in their use, and typically taken-for-granted as long as they function reliably. Such infrastructures include interdependent networks, systems, and assets and comprise technical structures and industries as well as institutions, organizations, and people. The term infrastructure is commonly used for technical networks – railroad lines, water supply, telecommunications, or electric grids – but can refer to manifold large provisions ranging from global food supply and health services to scientific knowledge infrastructures. Vulnerabilities in critical infrastructures and their disaster resilience have received increasing attention in academic and expert discussions over the past decade. Yet, relatively little is known about those infrastructures that disaster practitioners themselves critically depend upon. With this in view, the proposed session welcomes discussions and explorations of the infrastructure concept in disaster studies. Its topics could include early warning systems, catastrophe insurance, risk modelling, precautionary principles, preparedness practices, or public health screenings and how these activities draw from or establish various kinds of infrastructural systems. Potential research interests range from practices of infrastructure use to their standardization, breakdowns, or how disaster infrastructures plug into various other large structures. Further related themes are also welcome. The presentations can be empirical, methodological as well theoretical or conceptual.


5. Specific session: Energy Resilience Politics

According to recent policy discussions, society’s energy supplies confront challenging issues from mitigating the impacts of climate change to problems with national and international energy dependence and vulnerabilities in critical infrastructures. To address these problems and minimize their effects, the concept of “energy system resilience” has found support among policy makers, academics, and experts over the last years. The term draws from ecological sciences and designates the vital capacity of an energy system to tolerate disturbances, recover from shocks, continue provision of services, and provide alternatives when the system’s external environment changes. Instead of vulnerability and inability, energy resilience seemingly refers to the positive tolerance for faults, rather than prevention of risks, it assumes that risks will occur and need to be recovered from. In these ways energy resilience resembles the term of preparedness, yet turns attention to emergent systemic issues more than mere preparatory actions among people and organizations. Starting from these considerations, this session welcomes presentations that deal with energy system resilience as a policy concept, explorations of how the concept is operationalized, how it has diffused on different fields, its effects on organizational life, and the rationales of its adoption. We encourage theoretical and empirical as well as methodological presentations from different national and international settings. Discussions concerning resilience politics in other infrastructural systems (e.g. water, food, traffic) are also welcome.


6. Specific session: Water: Too Little or Too Much as a Leading Cause of  “Natural” Disasters

The title of this call for papers is based on a motto of the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reaction (1990-2000), but the word “natural” is deliberately placed in quotation marks due to the role of human intervention. Water, too little or too much, can be an immediate cause of disasters, as this is reflected basically in the case of droughts and floods.

Droughts have been  classified as “slow-onset” or “creeping disasters”, but floods can be either slow-onset (e.g. gradual rise of river and ocean levels) or can be “fast-onset”, as can be in the case of “flash-floods” following heavy rainstorms, break of dams or dykes, hurricanes, typhoons  etc..

Though not every country experiences earthquakes, almost all countries have droughts and/or floods.  Lately, there seems to be an increase, not only in frequency but also in intensity, of droughts and floods. Both of these  disasters, drought and floods,  have serious consequences in terms of human, property and environmental losses (e.g. famines, deaths, migration, conflict, wars, displacement, erosion, landslides, epidemics, forest fires  etc.).  In other words, they can cause (or compound the impact of) other disasters and social crises.

Papers – theoretical, empirical and methodological – are invited on the social causes and impacts of water-related disasters   as well as on the “next” and “best” practices for improving community resilience against them.  Comparative studies, either diachronic within the same community/country or across countries, are welcome.



7. Specific session: Information seeking behavior in disasters: Existing models and new frameworks

Information seeking is understood as a process in which the actor’s understanding of her or his information needs evolves and information behavior is the way the actor searches for and uses information. There are many different ways in which citizens seek information during disasters. Seeking information through formal and / or informal channels can have a profound influence on a citizen’s response to a disaster, or even surviving a disaster or not.

There are many theories concerning information seeking behaviour. Much of the information seeking is concerned with process: stages, actors, strategies, and sources and attempts to model; the behavior of people seeking information; models of the actual search process and its characteristics; analyses of behavior in particular work settings and in everyday life.

Empirical studies of information seeking provide only a limited number of answers to questions that relate to disaster situations. The information landscape and the ways people search for information change during disasters. This panel explores how existing models of information seeking behavior can be applied to disasters and what new models and theoretical frameworks can be constructed.



8. Specific session: Social inequalities, demographic diversity and the well-being of families in Europe in the context of the economic crisis: Patterns and Common Challenges

Since the end of 2008 in Europe most countries experienced an economic set-back, which expanded into a recession. The harsh austerity policies brought significant rises in unemployment and poverty, falling incomes, plummeting consumer confidence and rising uncertainty about the future.

This session aims to present the recent trends and the characteristics of inequality, poverty and living conditions in Europe, emphasizing the distributional effects of the austerity measures adopted in many countries.

It also explores the vital question if economic recession has affected the dynamics of family formation, fertility, mortality, and migration.

The following questions are addressed: How has economic recession contributed to family change, and what strategies do families employ to rise above the difficulties caused by the economic recession? Have the demographic changes threatened to trigger off an increase in existing social inequalities and prompt the emergence of new forms of social inequality? How the European Union can contribute to confront the existing economic crisis?

In particular, presentations will elaborate on inequalities ― and how they are affected by the economic recession ― in the following sectors: employment, income, wealth; discrimination; life satisfaction; family change and family welfare; family strategies; gender; and children’s poverty.


9. Specific session: Crisis as cause or effect? Right wing populism and resistance in Europe

Recent years has seen a growth in right wing populist movements across Europe characterised by xenophobia and neo-nationalism due to perceived cultural threats as a result of immigration. While these movements consist to a large degree of local activism, they are also increasingly entering the domain of traditional electoral politics in many European countries and thereby influencing national politics concerning issues around immigration, social security and citizenship among other things. One often heard explanation as to why support for right wing populist parties is growing in Europe today focuses on the growing unemployment, business failures and socio-economic inequalities, as a consequence of the 2008 financial crisis, opening the way, for example, for Golden Dawn to enter the Greek and the European Parliaments. Yet this this explanation seems to fall rather short when it comes to rather stable economies and political settings such as the Scandinavian countries. Here unemployment rates are relatively low and the social security system is comprehensive, yet in all these countries, support for right wing populist parties has increased rapidly. At the same time, in countries like Sweden, for example, the growth of right wing populism has encountered strong social and political resistance through feminist and antiracist movements and parties, which has produced growing polarisation in society as manifested in street demonstrations, public debates in mass media and social media.

How can we understand these movements and counter movements, and how do they relate to crises? Are they the outcome or do they produce crises or both? How do they manifest and spread? How does the political establishment handle this in parliamentary and democratic terms? What is new and what is path dependent in these processes?  

This session invites papers, from “crisis” and “non-crisis” countries, that engages empirically and theoretically with this multifaceted contemporary phenomenon. We strive for a comparative discussion and encourage scholars studying different countries to submit their abstracts.

Notes for authors

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to the general session or any specific session. Please submit only to one session. After abstract evaluation, coordinators will have the chance to transfer papers between sessions where applicable.

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. Each paper session will have the duration of 1.5 hours. Normally sessions will include 4 papers.

Abstracts must be submitted online to the submission platform, see below. Abstracts sent by email cannot be accepted. Abstracts will be peer-reviewed and selected for presentation by the Research Network; the letter of notification will be sent by the conference software system in early April 2015.

Abstract submission deadline (extended):                                                                                                15th February 2015

Abstract submission platform:                                                                                          www.esa12thconference.eu

If you have further questions on the conference, please visit the conference website. For further information on the Research Network, please visit www.europeansociology.org.