02 March 2017
The Varying Interpretations of Natural Disasters and their Relationship to Hewitt’s Perspectives
Through the several readings discussed throughout the course of the semester, Kenneth Hewitt’s reading based on conceptualizing natural disasters has constructed an interpretation on disasters which has ultimately served as structure for the class’ discussion. By using Hewitt’s reading as a source of reference, an analysis can be made with each reading based on its relation to Hewitt’s social construction of disaster. All of the subsequent readings have in some way confirmed, ignored, or refuted the interpretation of disasters perceived by Hewitt.
Kenneth Hewitt is a researcher whose studies focus on the physical environment and geohazards. His field work focuses on various types of natural disasters and how disaster depends upon established social conditions and how it controls over the varying quality of material life. In his book titled, “Excluded Perspectives in the Social Construction of Disaster,” Hewitt introduces the agent-specific approach in which disasters are interpreted in a way that rejects the effects of external agents as the source of disaster and only focuses on the natural event itself as the cause of destruction; he defines this approach as “a view of disaster in which physical agents define the problem.” (Quarantelli 77). In addition, he examines the concept known as the hazards paradigm and defines it as “a viewpoint that classifies, explains and responds to disasters as if they were wholly or essentially a function of the agent that ‘impinges upon a vulnerable society’" (Quarantelli 78). The hazards paradigm perspective places the sources of risk in the environment or the agent itself. In other words, the society is made to appear a passive victim of natural and technological agents. Hewitt believes that one should not ignore the agent-specific approach because it emphasizes a need for actions intended to reduce risk and to defend against the direct impact of damaging agents. Therefore, Hewitt’s research takes the agent-specific approach into consideration but it also embodies other elements as causes for the damage done by natural disasters.
Anthony Oliver Smith analyzes the anthropology and the political economy of disasters with a non agent-specific approach. He examines the “anthropological political economic approaches” in the analyses of the Hurricanes Mitch and Katrina to ultimately present what he believes to be “the most complete political economic model today for disaster research” (Smith 11). Smith notes that the original focus in disaster research was “narrow” since it emphasized the actual hazard agent itself as the main source for the destruction caused by the natural event. (Smith 26). In other words, he is claiming that previous research on disasters primarily took an agent-specific approach since it failed to consider several components of the disaster. He argues that the...