Rethinking Urban Risk And Adaptation: The Politics Of Vulnerability In Informal Urban Settlements

Fraser, Arabella (2015). Rethinking Urban Risk And Adaptation: The Politics Of Vulnerability In Informal Urban Settlements. PhD thesis London School of Economics and Political Science.



Informal urban settlements are increasingly recognised as vulnerable to climate-related risks. Their political-legal status is known to influence their vulnerability, but the linkages between state governance and vulnerability in this setting remain under-researched. In particular, as more urban governments develop climate risk assessments, questions arise about how risks are defined, the politics behind the processes of risk definition, and the impact this has on local-scale vulnerabilities.

The thesis proposes a new conceptual direction for urban vulnerability research. First, it draws on livelihoods debates to highlight the embeddedness of the livelihoods pathways that shape vulnerability in social and political relations. Second, the thesis shows how the idea of co-production, developed in the context of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and public policy, can be used to investigate the state politics of risk assessment in informal, urban areas. This theoretical frame generates insights at the interface between development studies and STS, providing a new perspective on questions of how urban communities adapt in informal areas, who adapts and what they are adapting to.

The conceptual propositions of the thesis are applied to a landslide risk management programme in three informal settlements in Bogota, Colombia. The thesis presents empirical findings that illustrate (i) how risk assessments are shaped by state cultures, values and practices particular to informal sites in ways that drive new forms of inclusion and exclusion; (ii) how inhabitants respond to risk in the context of socially-embedded meanings and identities and their relationships with the state; and (iii) how people’s agency to transform risks depends on fragile social and political relationships and the exercise of political agency. The thesis argues for a repoliticisation of approaches to understanding urban risk and adaptation, and for transformations in policy to reflect this approach.

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