Problematizing vulnerability: Unpacking gender, intersectionality, and the normative disaster paradigm
Mock, Nancy B.
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Kadetz, P. and Mock, N.B. (2017) 'Problematizing vulnerability: Unpacking gender, intersectionality, and the normative disaster paradigm', in M.J. Zakour, N.B. Mock and P. Kadetz (eds.) Creating Katrina, Rebuilding Resilience: Lessons from New Orleans on Vulnerability and Resiliency. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 215-230.
In crises, social exclusions thwart both access to resources and options out of vulnerability. Thus, sociocultural systems that privilege certain groups over others before a disaster ultimately produce the postdisaster vulnerability of those excluded groups. Yet, gender inequality and other forms of domination and exclusion have remained largely unexamined in US disaster research and interventions; which is often more concerned with technology and the rebuilding of physical infrastructure, than strengthening the social infrastructure. Dependence upon an essentialized depiction of vulnerability and “disaster victims,” while ignoring the predisaster social factors that engender and perpetuate inequality, exclusion, and lack of access to resources, serves to exacerbate the problem of postdisaster vulnerability. Thus, in order to address gendered and intersectional vulnerability in disasters, all of the complex factors contributing to vulnerability and inequality would need to be collectively assessed. But this would require analysis in disaster preparedness, recovery, and reconstruction that is far more specific than current aggregated groupings of sex, gender, and race/ethnicity. The complexity of gendered vulnerability through more complete data collection would provide a means to disaggregate gender via a series of criteria that include income, age, ethnicity, marriage status, sexual orientation, as well as other specific criteria, such as education, religion, disability and HIV-status. A response and recovery emphasis on strengthening local capacity of the most vulnerable in any group is essential. This chapter examines the intersections of gender, race, class, and other marginalized groups in the creation of postdisaster vulnerability in New Orleans. While pre-Katrina gendered vulnerability was stark, the lack of focus on the reduction of disparities provides important lessons for other contexts.