Student profile: Katherine Hore
Power and participation in disaster risk reduction: A case study in Franz Josef
A bit about me
My interest in disasters started after I finished a BA/BSc conjoint degree at The University of Auckland, when I had the chance to complete a summer studentship working on participatory disaster risk reduction in the Philippines. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with different non-governmental organisations in Asia and the Pacific on projects based around people’s participation in reducing disaster risk. My work focused on fostering children’s participation and developing participatory tools. These experiences allowed me to combine my love of travel with developing my interest and knowledge in the field of disasters.
After I returned to The University of Auckland and completed an honours degree in geography, I was given the exciting opportunity to get involved with the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge. The work is allowing me to apply the knowledge and lessons I learnt in international contexts to people’s participation in reducing the impact of disasters in New Zealand.
Outside of my PhD, I like to spend my free time with friends and family going on outdoor adventures such as hiking, diving, and camping.
My PhD research is looking at the different initiatives being undertaken by and with residents of Franz Josef to reduce the risk posed by the many natural hazards threatening the township. Using ethnographic research methods, it is attempting to understand how participatory processes are experienced and navigated by local and outside stakeholders, and by those facilitating them. It is particularly focusing on how power and power relations condition participation and its outputs, as well as how they enable or inhibit processes and outcomes that are conducive to building resilience and reducing disaster risk.
I am also attempting to include a participatory research component in my thesis, to incorporate the knowledge, ideas and views of some of Franz Josef’s residents. Spending time living in the Franz Josef township on the beautiful West Coast and getting to know its residents has been the highlight of the process so far!
Stopbanks alongside Franz Josef Township
People’s participation is crucial to effectively and efficiently reducing the impact of disasters. However, there are gaps between the theory and rhetoric of participation, and what most often plays out in practice. Various projects and initiatives operate under the term ‘participation’ in disaster risk reduction that in reality are standardised, top-down approaches that have little interaction with formal decision making. They act to perpetuate existing power relations and structures within decision making processes, rather than dissolve them. They can also undermine local efforts to reduce disaster risk. Such approaches often result from the failure to adequately acknowledge, analyse and accommodate power and power relations.
This project aims to change the way we think about power and power relations in participatory literature and practice. I hope that in doing that my research will contribute to the knowledge base needed to improve both the theory and practice of creating meaningful processes where people can contribute towards decision making around reducing disaster risk in New Zealand.