Unpacking the social construction of 'natural' disaster through policy discourses and institutional responses in Mexico : the case of Chalco Valley's floods, State of Mexico
Aragón-Durand, F. d. J.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
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This research analyses 'natural' disaster policies for Mexico. The objective is to demonstrate that 'natural' disaster and the policies oriented to prevent them are socially constructed. It adopts a constructionist perspective because it is concerned with the understanding of collective social constructions of meaning and knowledge that are determined by political and social processes. This study focuses on the relation between the discourses of disaster causality, policy problem construction and policy responses in Mexico. The central argument is that in Mexico when disaster is conceived as a 'natural' phenomenon the exposure of vulnerable people to disaster risk is concealed therefore inhibiting the emergence of socially sensitive responses at policy level. Two analytical inter-related frameworks were elaborated. The first framework was set up to examine the discursive construction of floods causality as a policy problem and the second one to unpack the argumentative construction of policy responses. The research chooses the case of Chalco Valley's floods that took place in June 2000 in the State of Mexico, Mexico and the institutional responses deployed before, during and after the floods as the empirical ground on which the central argument is examined. Four different disaster discourses were found at policy level, namely inadvertence by 'ignorance', inadvertence by 'carelessness', accidental and structural. These were shaped by how causal ideas of disaster were assembled and made persuasive. In turn, these four different discourses construct four different floods policy problems and therefore imply four types of policy responses even though important connections were found amongst them. These connections represent relevant policy coalitions upon which policy change can be sought. It was found that people's vulnerability to floods is a component in only one discourse, namely structural causality discourse, and therefore in one group of policy responses. The research approach and the findings suggest areas to improve policy making and research in the disaster field in Mexico. The outcome of the research contributes to a better understanding of the how scientists, policy makers and people affected by disaster assign meanings and beliefs, construct knowledge and use evidence to support and legitimise disaster causality claims in different ways. These epistemological differences have to be acknowledged for improving policy formulation and implementation aimed at reducing disaster risk of vulnerable people.