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Living through the tsunami: vulnerability and generosity on a volatile earth

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date11/2007
Number of pages13
Original languageEnglish


How might geographers respond ‘generously’ to a disaster on the scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami? Critical geographers and other left intellectuals have chosen to stress the way pre-existing social forces conditioned human vulnerability, and have implied that ordinary people ‘here’ were implicated in the suffering of others ‘there’ through their positioning in chains of causality. Critics have also sought to expose the bias, unjustness and inappropriateness of post-tsunami patterns of donation and programs of aid and recovery. A supplement to this mode of critique is offered in the form of a view of disasters and human vulnerability that hinges on the idea of the self as ‘radically passive’: that is, as inherently receptive to both the stimuli that cause suffering, and to the demands of others who are suffering. All forms of thought – including geography and disaster studies should themselves be seen as ‘vulnerable’ and responsive to the impact to disasters. The idea that every ‘self’ bears the trace of past disasters – and past gifts of others – forms the basis of a vision of bodies and communities as always already ‘fractured’ by disaster – in ways which resist being ‘brought to light’. This offers a way of integrating human and physical geographies through a shared acknowledgement of what is unknowable and absent. It is also suggestive that gratitude might be an appropriate response to a sense of indebtedness to others – for who we are, as much as for what we have done.