Theories for Practice in Conflict, Crisis, and Recovery

Course topics and objectives:

How do we understand the relationship between crisis, recovery and the built environment at the beginning of the 21st century? Conflicts and disasters are both symptoms and evidence of asymmetrical urban, territorial, and social development. For this reason, any ethically defensible response to a catastrophic event should go beyond “mere” reconstruction and imagine new, more resilient, and more equitable forms of urbanization. This research seminar will therefore examine situations of ‘post-disaster recovery’, as an opportunity to rethink, conceptually redefine, and proactively reconstruct or reconfigure new forms of urbanization.

To begin, we explore the social construction of crisis, disasters and emergencies through a critical interpretive lens, as well as situate contemporary discourses on disaster response within theories of modernization, crisis, and the ‘natural’. We identify the conditions under which certain crises or related challenges are considered normal or routine, as opposed to exceptional. We move beyond the abstract to ground our inquiry in the physical world. We examine the variety of actors involved in recovery interventions – including international institutions, NGOs, citizens, professional planners, political parties – and critically reflect on the role of technology and infrastructure, and various other methodologies deployed to achieve post-disaster aims.

Course format and methods of evaluation:

This course is a reading, writing, and research seminar. It requires sustained participation throughout the semester. Readings span multiple disciplines in the social sciences: urban studies, geography, sociology, political philosophy, and science and technology studies (STS). Some assignments are collective, others individual. Several guests will present themes ranging from the history of disaster, to post-conflict reconciliation, and new technologies of crisis response. Students will use a variety of methodologies such as analytical mapping and design techniques as well as archival, survey, planning, ecological, engineering, and critical conservation practices to offer projective ideas and grounded proposals for novel reconstruction practices that aim for a more vibrant, sustainable, and equitable urbanism.