Liberating disaster studies

Abstracts due: 12 December 2022


Is it possible to liberate disaster studies? Do disaster studies, as discipline, practice and field of enquiry need to be liberated? And from what?

Stemming from the urgent call to decolonize academia and disciplines (Mbmebe, 2015; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013) and the return to a critically focused engagement (Brookfield, 2005; Harcourt, 2021), we are inviting contributions from different disciplinary perspectives, entry points, locus of enunciations, and epistemological frames, which can answer the questions, deliberately open, posed above directly to the nature, role, and challenges of liberation in disaster studies.

Liberation of disaster studies here is intended as a provocatory register understood as a double-edged manner. On the one hand, to liberate in a proper sense, looking for the ways in which the practice, the discourses and the theories used, developed, and emerging in disaster studies are allying and allied to broader and expanded struggles for liberations globally, therefore crossing and overlapping with questions of epistemological justice, decolonial struggles, radical pedagogies, solidarity, and mutualistic practices within and beyond STS, planning, anthropology, and sociology. 

On the other hand, to liberate disaster studies from the disciplinary arrogance, uncritical criticism, and rationalistic institutional projections, challenging the very nature of the possibility of critique in the pragmatic, operative and highly empirically base work of disasters.

Attempting to reflect and frame liberation in disaster studies will serve as opportunity to question the overall criticality of disaster studies. Horowitz and Remes recently argued that, in line with many other critical turns in social sciences, “the ‘critical’ part of critical disaster studies signals a critique of dominant intellectual traditions” (2021, p. 2). Unpacking the complex traditions, genres, blind spots, constellations of concepts, they suggest the importance of not looking at disasters as the focus of an expertly defined field of studies, but more as a prism – being disaster socially constructed and produced – as “interdisciplinary intersection”, where such “interpretive fictions” allows “scholars across the humanities and social sciences to think together” (p. 2). A shift that implies thinking disasters as a field of tensions “that is shaped and shape by contests over power” (p. 3) being around predetermined futures (e.g. resilient), disciplinary discourses or the typologies of societal impacts or in the impacts of the imaginations that they let emerge. But as Oliver-Smith (2022) notes, “while the label may be recent, the perspective is not” (p. 28), as the critical disaster studies have a somewhat deeper history – and that “is not only an academic or scholarly paradigm, but one that is shared, participated in and supported by people working in national and international agencies, NGOs, journalism, architecture and many other fields, sometimes at some professional risk” (p. 28). A criticality that is also a liberation from Western epistemologies as Gaillard (2022) notes, or the adoption of a much-needed discussion about the socio-political implications of disaster research, language, and method and the imbrication of disaster with capitalism and neo-liberalism at large (Oliver-Smith, 2015), where destruction and reconstruction are framed as opportunities for growth, investment, and profitability (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Klein, 2007; OliverSmith, 2015; Vale & Campanella, 2005), as resistance tactics (Cretney & Bond, 2014; Pyles, 2017; Tierney, 2015).

Aligning with what Uekusa, Matthewman and Glavovic (2022) suggest on critical disaster studies seen as a “lens” that is able to offer a much “thicker” view of disasters, deconstructing its very meanings and operations especially in “some domains, particularly those social sciences areas relate to theory, root causes and the often-descriptive operations of power” (p. 3), we aim, thinking on the different meanings of liberations, to consider the conditions of possibilities for a critical approach in the field of disaster studies so prone to technofascism, reductionism, eurocentrism, and racism, and imbricated with issues of “inequity, poverty, sexism, racism and various forms of social marginalisation and oppression predispose some people to particularly adverse impacts” (p. 5), therefore asking: what are the nature, practice, and strategies of critiques in disaster studies and affiliated fields and can a critical disaster studies field really exist?

We are looking for conceptual articles, unconventional points of view, radical epistemologies, and overlooked cases where a certain critical theory is emerging or is adopted. We particularly encourage early career scholars to submit a contribution.  

We invite the authors to reflect upon and engage with the notions of decoloniality, intersectionality, feminism, and justice. Specifically, we ask papers to directly answer the following questions, while illustrating the answers with scholarly and empirical reflections:

  • Is it possible be critical in disaster studies?
  • What are the nature, practice, and strategies of critiques in disaster studies and affiliated fields?
  • What is the meaning of critique in a time when the very existence of everyone, everywhere and everything is threatened?
  • Is it possible to instil a series of practices of freedom and liberation emerging from various regions, disciplines and knowledges that contribute to disaster studies?


Submission information

The full papers for this special issue will be by invitation only.

If you are interested in submitting a paper, please send the extended abstract (up to 500 words) to Olivia Walmsley [email protected]  by 12 December 2022.

The authors of the selected abstracts will be informed in January 2023 and invited to submit the final manuscript by 1 June 2023.



Brookfield, S., (2005) The power of critical theory for adult learning and teaching. Maidenhead Open UP.

Cretney, R., and Bond, S. (2014). “Bouncing Back” to Capitalism? Grass-Roots Autonomous Activism in Shaping Discourses of Resilience and Transformation Following Disaster. Resilience, 2 (1), 18–31.

Didier F., and Harcourt, B. E, (2019). A Time for Critique. Columbia University Press.

Galliard, JC., (2022) The Invention of Disaster. London: Routledge:

Harcourt, B., (2021) Critic and praxis. Columbia University Press.

Horowitz and Remes (2021) Critical Disaster Studies. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mbmebe, A. (2015). Decolonising Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Available at:

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. (2013). Why decoloniality in the 21st Century? The thinker, 48, 10–15.

Langdon, J., 2013. Decolonising development studies: reflections on critical pedagogies in action. Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue Canadienne d'études du développement, 34 (3), 384-399

le Grange, L. (2016). Decolonising the University Curricular. South African Journal of Higher Education, 30 (2), 1-12.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being. Cultural Studies, 21(2–3), 240–270.

Oliver-Smith, A., 2022. Critical Disaster Studies: The Evolution of a Paradigm. In: S. Uekusa et al. (eds.), A Decade of Disaster Experiences in ¯Otautahi Christchurch. Ch.2, 27-53. Palgrave Macmillian.

Pyles, L (2017). Decolonising Disaster Social Work: Environmental Justice and Community Participation, The British Journal of Social Work, 47(3), 630–647

Tierney, K. (2015). ‘Resilience and the Neoliberal Project: Discourses, Critiques, Practices—And Katrina.’ American Behavioral Scientist, 59(10), 1327-1342

Vale, L. J. and Campanella, T. J. (2005).  The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster. New York: Oxford University Press