Title

Mythopolitics of “community”: an unstable but necessary category

Publication Date

11-13-2020

Document Type

Article

Department

Anthropology

Publication Title

Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal

Volume

29

Issue

4

DOI

10.1108/DPM-04-2020-0101

First Page

481

Last Page

484

Abstract

Purpose: The authors engage a set of critical discussions on key concepts in disaster studies with attention to recent critiques of the concept “community,” which decry the term's imprecision and problematic insinuation of consensus. The authors’ objective is to explore for enduring and redeeming merit in the use of the term in disaster prevention, response and recovery and in collaborative social science research more broadly. Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based on case studies drawn from the authors' ongoing, longitudinal studies of community-based work with Spanish-speaking community leaders in San José, California and rural Indigenous communities in Alaska. Findings: The authors synthesize unromantic critiques of the community concept that surface important matters of inequality that complicate efforts for decolonizing disaster work with a view of community as an often utopian project servicing redistributions and relocations of the loci of power. It is a term not only invoked in scholarship and the work of governmental and nongovernmental agencies but also one with deeply symbolic and contextualized meaning. Originality/value: The authors’ interpretation is that we must at once be critical and unromantic in studying and working with “community” while also recognizing its utopian fecundity. Abandoning the concept altogether would not only create a massive lacuna in everyday speech but also we fear too strong a language in opposition to the community concept metaphor telegraphs a hostility toward those who use it to mobilize scarce social, political and material resources to confront power and contest structural violence.

Keywords

Community, Critical theory, Disaster, Disaster politics, Environmental justice, Social justice

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