Original Research

Vulnerability assessments, identity and spatial scale challenges in disaster-risk reduction

Edward R. Carr, Daniel Abrahams, Arielle T. de la Poterie, Pablo Suarez, Bettina Koelle
Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies | Vol 7, No 1 | a201 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v7i1.201 | © 2015 Edward R. Carr, Daniel Abrahams, Arielle T. de la Poterie, Pablo Suarez, Bettina Koelle | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 May 2015 | Published: 30 November 2015

About the author(s)

Edward R. Carr, Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University, United States; Society, Environment, Economy Group, LLC, Columbia, SC United States
Daniel Abrahams, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, United States
Arielle T. de la Poterie, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado, United States
Pablo Suarez, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the Hague, Netherlands
Bettina Koelle, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the Hague, Netherlands


Current approaches to vulnerability assessment for disaster-risk reduction (DRR) commonly apply generalised, a priori determinants of vulnerability to particular hazards in particular places. Although they may allow for policy-level legibility at high levels of spatial scale, these approaches suffer from attribution problems that become more acute as the level of analysis is localised and the population under investigation experiences greater vulnerability. In this article, we locate the source of this problem in a spatial scale mismatch between the essentialist framings of identity behind these generalised determinants of vulnerability and the intersectional, situational character of identity in the places where DRR interventions are designed and implemented. Using the Livelihoods as Intimate Government (LIG) approach to identify and understand different vulnerabilities to flooding in a community in southern Zambia, we empirically demonstrate how essentialist framings of identity produce this mismatch. Further, we illustrate a means of operationalising intersectional, situational framings of identity to achieve greater and more productive understandings of hazard vulnerability than available through the application of general determinants of vulnerability to specific places and cases.


vulnerability assessment; disaster risk reduction; spatial scale mismatch; identity; climate change adaptation; resilience; Zambia


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