Proposal preview

The impact of different types of inequality on vulnerability towards natural hazards in the pre-industrial world.

Inequality is often a presumed cause of heightened vulnerability towards natural hazards, leading to social disasters. Poverty, different levels of entitlements, the geographic location of households, different levels of political agency, all have been labelled as factors affecting communities in their struggles with natural hazards and eventual disasters. Nevertheless, the impact of inequality on vulnerability is difficult to assess. This is largely the result of the delimitation of the concept inequality. Inequality is a black box, referring to a wide range of different social, economic and political characteristics of a given society, that all have a very different impact on societies’ ability to cope with natural hazards. In this session we try to solve this problem.
First of all by moving beyond the more general concept of inequality. In this session the impact of very particular forms of inequality will we investigated and compared. The role of unequal entitlements, unbalanced power relations, social, economic and racial inequalities will be analysed and compared. A society characterised by highly unequal property distribution, but more equal socio-political structures, often reacts quite differently on similar threats, than economically equal societies, with highly polarised power distributions. As a result, we can give more clear answers on the particular effect of these different forms of inequality and whether all types of inequality actually do heighten the level of vulnerability towards hazards.
Secondly, we will test this hypothesis by looking at long term historical developments in the pre-industrial world. Long term datasets provide the opportunity to analyse prevention measures, and recovery in the short and long term, which is difficult to do for modern disasters. Overall we will use the ‘laboratory’ of the pre-industrial period, to help explore and explain more clearly how inequality has affected historical societies in coping with natural hazards such as epidemics, subsistence crises, floods and more insidious hazards, such as sand drifts.
Finally, in order to get a better grasp of the impact and spread of disasters, an interdisciplinary approach is used. Climate reconstructions, geological reports on sand drifts and geographical information system technologies will be used, to move beyond a qualitative assessment of vulnerabilities and naturally induced disasters, and analyse the impact of hazards in detail.


  • Maïka De Keyzer, Utrecht University,, The Netherlands
  • Tim Soens, University of Antwerp,, Belgium

Session members

  • Guido Alfani, Bocconi University,
  • Bradley Skopyk, Binghampton University,
  • Matthew Hannaford, Utrecht University,
  • Eline Van Onacker, University of Antwerp,
  • Joris Roosen, Utrecht University,
  • Maïka De Keyzer, Utrecht University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Tim Soens, University of Antwerp,