Dissertation Abstracts

Social vulnerability, resilience and capital in disasters: Immigrants, resilience and linguistic minorities in the 2010-11 Canterbury and Tohoku disasters

Author: Shinya Uekusa, suek456@aucklanduni.ac.nz
Department: Sociology
University: University of Auckland, New Zealand
Supervisor: Dr. Steve Matthewman
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Social vulnerability , Resilience , Sociology of disasters , Pierre Bourdieu
Areas of Research: Disasters , Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty , Migration


Drawing upon Bourdieu’s theories?capital, field and habitus?this cross-national study qualitatively explores how immigrants and refugees, who are linguistic minorities, experienced the 2010-2011 Canterbury and Tohoku disasters. This includes their perceived social vulnerabilities and resilience to disasters. Sociological research has found that disasters affect individuals, families and communities differently. Damage and recovery are usually uneven due to the structural inequalities that exist prior to disasters. Immigrants, refugees and linguistic minorities are typically considered more vulnerable to disasters than the general population. However, findings drawn from 28 in-depth interviews and publicly available data demonstrate the complexity, contextuality and resource-dependent nature of social vulnerability and resilience. My sociological analysis focuses on four major themes: 1) disaster linguicism, 2) earned strength and the paradox of social vulnerability and resilience, 3) communitas and disaster capital, and 4) the need to re-interpret social capital. The overall findings suggest that study respondents purposefully and subconsciously developed practical capitals such as linguistic infrastructure, earned strength and durable social networks to negotiate the “everyday disasters” that they face. In conjunction with disaster capital, this unexpectedly became a major source of their remarkable resilience in the Canterbury and Tohoku disasters. However, others seemed more isolated and vulnerable, mainly because these capitals depend on other capitals and contexts. Social connectedness is a main concern here, as their social agency alone may be insufficient to cope with the disasters. I argue that the durable system of social oppression (e.g. racial stigma) and the power imbalance that results are the major reasons for differential social capital and thus different levels of resilience. These findings inform us of: 1) the need to avoid mystifying “people’s power” (or social agency) by individualizing resilience, 2) the need for a bottom-up approach to properly understand the experiences of the socially vulnerable, and 3) the requirement for greater inclusivity for people to own their own recovery. The key recommendation here is that, in order to reduce social vulnerability and promote resilience, we need to overcome social injustices. Policy discussion should concentrate on distributing capitals evenly, accompanied by efforts to effect such social transformation.