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.

Organizer(s)

  • Maïka De Keyzer University of Antwerp maika.dekeyzer@uantwerpen.be Belgium

Session members

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

Discussant(s)

  • Wouter Ryckbosch Free University of Brussels Wouter.Ryckbosch@vub.be

Papers

Panel abstract

Inequality is often a presumed cause of heightened vulnerability towards natural hazards, leading to social disasters. Nevertheless, the impact of inequality on vulnerability is difficult to assess, because inequality is a black box, referring to a wide range of characteristics of a society, that all have a 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. Secondly, we will test this hypothesis by looking at long term historical developments in the pre-industrial world. 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.

1st half

Inequality, vulnerability and the impacts of weather extremes in early modern East Anglia, England

Matthew Hannaford

Unequal Outcomes of Social-Ecological Crises in Colonial Mexico, 1675-1715: A Comparative Spatial Approach

Bradley Skopyk

Who won the hunger games? The role of inequality on the response to harvest failures, Southern Low Countries, sixteenth century

Eline Van Onacker

All we are is dust in the wind? The effect of socioeconomic and political inequalities on vulnerability towards sand drifts, Breckland (England) and the Campine (Belgium) compared

Maïka De Keyzer

Inequality and plague: from the Black Death to the seventeenth-century epidemics

Guido Alfani

2nd half