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Vulnerable and Resilient? Immigrants and Refugees in Disasters
6th International Conference on Building Resilience. Massey University and the University of Auckland (2016)
  • Shinya Uekusa
  • Steve Matthewman, University of Auckland
This sociological study explores how immigrants and refugees, many of whom are linguistic minorities, experienced the 2010-2011 disasters in Canterbury (New Zealand) and Tohoku (Japan). The focus is on their perceived social vulnerabilities and resilience to disasters. Previous research has found that linguistic minority immigrants and refugees are socially vulnerable as they occupy a position of relative deprivation compared to majority groups. However, findings drawn from in-depth interviews demonstrate the fluid, complex and contextual nature of social vulnerabilities in disasters, suggesting that people may be simultaneously vulnerable and resilient. The current disaster resilience paradigm can be misleading as it suggests that some of the socially vulnerable may be naturally disaster resilient. This study, utilizing key-informant interviews drawn from snowball sampling, suggests that they can be resilient partly because of the everyday inequalities that already confront them, and because of their previous experiences of disasters. Wars, conflicts, displacement and everyday hardships have given them “earned strength” and made them disaster resilient. Employing Bourdieu’s theoretical notions of capital, this study demonstrates how these victims were active social agents in these disasters, using a variety of resources (capitals) to cope with them. In-depth analysis of their individual and collective experiences can help disaster researchers to re-conceptualize the social vulnerability approach and disaster resilience thinking. Further, examples of the ways in which they individually and collectively coped with disasters can provide practical knowledge to help researchers, practitioners and policymakers develop more effective disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies.
  • Capital,
  • Earned Strength,
  • Resilience,
  • Social Vulnerability,
  • Sociology of Disasters
Publication Date
September, 2016
Auckland, New Zealand:
Citation Information
Uekusa, S. & Matthewman, S. (2016). “Vulnerable and Resilient? Immigrants and Refugees in Disasters”. In Domingo, N. & Wilkinson, S. (eds.) Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Building Resilience (pp.599-606). Auckland, New Zealand: Massey University and the University of Auckland.