Political agency for disaster resilience in practice: insights from Australian coastal communities
Human agency is a critical component of adaptive capacity concerning environmental change. Agency refers to individuals’ capacity to become proactive, and mobilise others and resources, in dealing with environmental change rather than being its victim. This capacity may entail individuals and communities’ abilities to live with change and uncertainty, reorganise and renew their social-ecological systems, learn from experience, and create opportunities for self-organisation and transformation. However, agency is also influenced by the structure of the system it is trying to change, hence the need for political agency in its expanded view (cf. O’Brien 2015). This paper investigates the conditions which are necessary for political agency to flourish in communities affected by disasters caused by natural hazards – which may intensify because of climate change. The paper draws on action research carried out in two Australian coastal communities which have been affected by severe disasters, and continue to be susceptible to natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, wildfires, and sea-level rise. Both communities took advantage of their disaster recovery phase to undertake a participatory, and essentially bottom-up, planning process to prepare and implement strategies to increase their resilience to future natural hazards. The paper discusses the challenges to political agency confronted by both communities in harnessing opportunities for transformation during the process of preparing and implementing their strategies for change. Challenges are discussed from an intrinsic (individual and community’s agency capacity) and external (structure of the system) perspectives, including: understanding current and future problems affecting their social-ecological system through knowledge information and generation; devising solutions to critical problems and understanding associated implications; understanding other people’s and self- interests and values; developing and applying holistic and integrative thinking to solving problems; and communicating and implementing solutions.
Monday, 21 August
14:00 - 15:30
14:00 - 15:30