Constructions of flood vulnerability across an etic-emic spectrum

PhD thesis

Alexander, M. 2014. Constructions of flood vulnerability across an etic-emic spectrum. PhD thesis Middlesex University Flood Hazard Research Centre
TypePhD thesis
TitleConstructions of flood vulnerability across an etic-emic spectrum
AuthorsAlexander, M.

Constructions of vulnerability are varied and contested through different research traditions, such that there is no agreed definition of its meaning. In an attempt to lessen this confusion, this thesis builds upon the distinction between etic (“outsider”) and emic (“insider”) orientated research and examines the extent to which vulnerability knowledge can be aligned to this spectrum. The nature of emic-orientated research necessitates the identification of “insiders”, who are assumed to be those ‘closest’ to the issue at hand and able to offer first-hand insights based on personal experience. However, it is arguably inappropriate to assume the existence of a supposedly homogeneous group of insiders, or a definitive boundary between insiders and outsiders. Therefore, this research critically examines the notion of “insiderness” and the extent to which this influences constructions of flood vulnerability. Mixed methods are employed to elicit the perspectives of emergency professionals and the public in two socially-contrasting locations exposed to multiple flood drivers; a Bradford town in West Yorkshire (fluvial and pluvial flooding) and a town on the Isle of Wight (tidal and pluvial flooding). Contents analysis, semi-structured interviews and cognitive interviews facilitated by a GIS-based flood risk mapping tool (“KEEPER”), demonstrate the influence of professional roles, scales of decision making and phase of emergency management upon constructions of vulnerability. From this, it is argued that area-wide vulnerability assessment could benefit from more interactive and malleable forms of mapping, flexible to different place and hazard contexts, and professional needs. With residents, questionnaires, in-depth interviews and vignettes reveal evidence of hazardcentric, social-centric and existential constructions, which inform self-declared vulnerabilities. A number of variables and processes are identified as relevant for understanding the formation of these constructions. For instance, this research documents the process of othering, whereby residents distance vulnerability from the self, onto a real or illusionary “vulnerable other”. Moreover, analysis suggests that this is partly motivated amongst “insiders” by the need to preserve ontological security. At a time where flooding is set to increase and households are expected to embrace responsibility and act to mitigate risks to their properties, these findings highlight a potentially significant barrier to household resilience, especially in the context of pluvial flooding. On the basis of this research, recommendations are made for using the concept of “insiderness” to target and tailor communication and community engagement in FRM.

Department nameFlood Hazard Research Centre
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print10 Jun 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited10 Jun 2014
CompletedFeb 2014
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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