Dissertation Abstracts

Watermarks: Urban Flooding and Memoryscape in Argentina

Author: Baez Ullberg, Susann , susann.baez.ullberg@fhs.se
Department: Department of Social Anthropology
University: Stockholm University, Sweden
Supervisor: Prof. Gudrun Dahl
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: disaster , memoryscape , Argentina , Santa Fe
Areas of Research: Disasters , Environment and Society , Social Classes and Social Movements


On April 29th, 2003, a disastrous flood occurred in the Argentinian city of Santa Fe. It came to be called simply “la Inundación” (the Flood) by the city’s inhab-itants. Twenty-three people perished during the emergency. Another hundred people died due to indirect consequences of the disaster in the following months and years. Around 130 000 inhabitants had to evacuate for weeks and months, some even for years. Hundreds of these families had no home at all to return to. The disaster management capacities of local authorities were largely surpassed. In general, the Santafesinos were shocked by this unexpected catastrophe. Judg-ing from the reactions, the flood was like a bolt from the blue. However, this was far from the first flood to strike the city. Because it is situated between the Paraná and Salado rivers, flooding has in fact been part of the city’s local history since the time of the settlement of the place by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century. Since the mid-17th century, at least 30 extraordinary floods have affected Santa Fe.

As social events, disasters are extraordinary and totalising. Because of this, one would expect such events to be memorable and shape ideas and practices on how to deal with them successfully. In light of the case of Santa Fe, the empirical question arises whether this is always the case however. In the multidisciplinary field of disaster studies, the relation between social experience and action in the con-text of recurrent disasters is often thought of in terms of adaptation. The overall purpose of the present investigation is to problematise this theoretical assump-tion from an anthropological perspective. In order to achieve this, the aim of the study is to understand the role of memory in disaster preparedness. Taking Santa Fe City as a case in point, this study explores ethnographically how people in different urban settings engaged with their flooding past through processes of remembering and forgetting, constituting what I call an urban flood memoryscape. Based on translocal and transtemporal ethnographic fieldwork in this city in the years 2004-2011 and drawing on anthropological and sociological theories of memory, the study enables an understanding of how this memoryscape is configured in time and space. The ethnography at hand is a contribution to the anthropology of memory as much as to disaster anthropology, and engages in multidisciplinary discussions about disaster vulnerability and resilience.

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