Understanding the role of culture in the post disaster reconstruction process: the case of tsunami reconstruction in Tamilnadu, Southern India

Pasupuleti, R.S. 2011. Understanding the role of culture in the post disaster reconstruction process: the case of tsunami reconstruction in Tamilnadu, Southern India. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Architecture and the Built Environment

TitleUnderstanding the role of culture in the post disaster reconstruction process: the case of tsunami reconstruction in Tamilnadu, Southern India
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsPasupuleti, R.S.

This thesis is developed in built environment context on the premise that integrating cultural

aspects in development produces sustainable ways of living for communities affected by natural

disasters. It employs a conceptual framework to validate the argument that cultural dimensions of

the affected communities are not effectively and sufficiently addressed in the current post

disaster humanitarian and development processes.

This has been well articulated in this study from the analysis of shelter reconstruction process in

2004 tsunami hit fishing villages of Tamilnadu. The main contribution of this thesis to theory

and practice is delivered in three sections. Firstly, it explains the relevance of the conceptual

framework that synthesises two different fields of enquiry i.e. cultural anthropology and urban

design to analyse the role of culture in the evolution and development of traditional settlements

in post disaster contexts. As culture has got multiple interpretations in different contexts, this

framework contextualises and defines the cultural dimensions through which communities tend

to give meanings to their living or built spaces in the post disaster development contexts. This is

followed by the analysis of reconstruction processes in three tsunami hit fishing villages in

Tamilnadu, Southern India, in which the author has carried out primary research as part of his

PhD study. It also explains the relevance of the conceptual framework in selecting the casestudy

areas for this study. It is aimed to identify how diversified cultural settings respond to the

tsunami reconstruction processes to sustain their lives and livelihoods. The analysis of this

primary research unfolds the specific impacts and the reasons for such responses in the post

tsunami reconstruction process, by comparing and contrasting the findings from the three case

studies. From the comparative and combined analysis general development issues that are

observed from all the case studies has been elaborated briefly.

This thesis discusses the disaster reconstruction process in two different ways. Instrumentally –

in a positivist way. Physical distances are increased due to relocation and extended families have

separated, certain activities are no longer possible and ultimately the family suffers.

Development agencies operate at an instrumental level in their discussion of vulnerability. Here the frame of discussion is about the role of governance, agencies and its direct physical relations.

The findings of this research have demonstrated that the impact of development on traditional

settlements (pre and post disaster) raises broader issues from the side of both beneficiary and

development groups. Secondly, the findings on the outcome of the reconstruction process have

been discussed from the perspective of cultural anthropology. Here the consideration is of a ‘way

of life’ – a habitus. This was changing for the fishermen anyway in pre and post disaster

development processes and the tsunami represented the prospect of a cataclysmic change. The

concept of habitus is not determinist and as the ‘way of life’ is inevitably altered, different

individuals and families have different responses. At the extreme, cataclysmic change can also

lead to increased vulnerability. This perspective is addressed from a different philosophical

framework to positivism of development studies and draws on cultural anthropology – that is

looking at the world as a social construct that operates through a physical spatial field. When the

spatial relations change, this has an impact on social relations, but the relationship is not direct

and deterministic, because the social and the spatial are mutually constructed. In this research,

urban design concepts have operated at both levels. The layout can be viewed instrumentally and

functionally in terms of the way it supports (or not) the issues of income and livelihood and it

can be interpreted as a socio-spatial construct that supports the performances of social and

cultural life that have been identified in this study.

Some of the findings and process of this research either has already been disseminated in various

international conferences including TCDPAP, conference (2007) in Pakistan, IASTE conference

(2008) at Oxford, Culture Space (2009) symposium at Istanbul, Understanding Places

symposium (2009) at London. Very recently, in 2010 this has been presented in the Knowledge

Exchange Series at School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal, which has been mentioned in

leading ‘Pioneer’ news paper. In 2011, an article has been published in ABACUS journal.

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