A paper on which I am credited with Liam Magee, John Handmer, and Monique Ladds has just been published in Geoforum on early view. The paper – titled ‘Locating the Intangible: Integrating a Sense of Place into Cost Estimations of Natural Disasters’ – discusses how ‘intangible assets’ remain a major weakness in economic cost estimates of natural disasters. Personally, like my colleagues on this paper, I think there are a lot of problems with the economising drive of hazards discourse. Seeking to bring things into a financial accounting framework can perpetuate quite pernicious ideas that, for example, financial equity is equity (capitalist utopia!), or that all the world is ultimately countable (technicist utopia!), amongst many other things. Alternately, cost estimations are a major driver of hazard policy (and expenditure) and, within such practices, if something is not counted or countable then it does not ‘count’. So, this paper surveys some responses to this issue and lays out a possible method for thinking about the quantification of ‘sense of place’.
A link to the (free) PDF is here. Abstract:
The field of disaster loss assessment attempts to provide comprehensive estimates of the cost of disasters. Assessment of intangibles remains a major weakness. Existing costing frameworks have acknowledged losses to cultural – as distinct from economic, social, human or environmental – capital. However, the inclusion of cultural line items has usually been conducted in an ad hoc and under-theorised way, with little empirical evidence. This paper presents the possibility of using cultural capital itself as an overarching category for specifically cultural losses. It further focuses on the specific concept of sense of place as one area that has been neglected even in frameworks that consider other kinds of intangibles, and argues, on both theoretical and pragmatic grounds, that a collective or shared sense of place can be subsumed within cultural capital loss estimates. Christchurch provides an illustration of the idea as relevant and comparable empirical material is available from before and since the 2011 earthquake.
The past few weeks have been an unusually productive period in terms of new publications. Some of it owes to a busy summer, but some of it also relates to the long processing times that some journals have between accepting a paper and putting in ‘out there’.
Over the past decade, major landscape wildfires (or ‘bushfires’ in Australia) in fire-prone countries have illustrated the seriousness of this global environmental problem. This natural hazard presents a complex mesh of dynamic factors for those seeking to reduce or manage its costs, as ignitions, hazard behaviour, and the reactions of different human and ecological communities during and after hazard events are all extremely uncertain. But while those at risk of wildfire have been subject to significant research, the social dimensions of its management, including the role of science, have received little attention. This paper reports on a case study of the Barwon-Otway area of Victoria in Australia, a high wildfire risk area that has recently been a pilot site for a new risk mitigation strategy utilising the wildfire simulation model PHOENIX RapidFire. Against simple equations between ‘more science’ and ‘less uncertainty,’ this paper presents results from interviews and a workshop with practitioners to investigate how scientific research interacts with and informs both wildfire policy and practice. We suggest that attending to cultural and social specificities of the application of any technical innovation—such as next generation modelling—raises questions for future research about the roles of narrative, performance, and other knowledges in the sedimentation of science.
This link to Geoforum should give free access until 20 May 2016.
The second piece that just came out was written with two games scholars, Robbie Fordyce and Tom Apperley, in late 2014/early 2015. The article – Modelling Systemic Racism: Mobilising the Dynamics of Race and Games in Everyday Racism – critically examines the use of race in videogames by focusing on Everyday Racism, a ‘serious game’ that attempts to give players a sense of the everyday difficulties of racial discrimination. As the abstract explains:
This article is concerned with attempts to pose videogames as solutions to systemic racism. The mobile app, Everyday Racism, is one such game. Its method is to directly address players as subjects of racism interpellating them as victims of racist language and behaviour within Australian society, implicating the impact of racism on mental health and wellbeing. While the game has politically laudable goals, its effectiveness is undermined by several issues themselves attributable to the dynamics of race and games. This paper will spell out those issues by addressing three separate facets of the game: the problematic relationship between the player and their elected avatar; the pedagogic compromises that are made in modelling racism as a game; finally, the superliminal narrative that attempts to transcend the limited diegetic world of the game.
An article I co-wrote with my friend and colleague Eve Vincent (Macquarie) has just gone up online. It won’t be in an ‘issue’ of TAJA for some time – this is how publishing works now – but it’s out there, for all intents and purposes.
The 1970s witnessed the emergence of a protest-based environmental movement in Australia. We outline here the history of the unstable meeting of environmentalism and Aboriginal interests, before turning to Marcia Langton’s recent critique of the progressive ‘green left’ in Australia.1 We summarise Langton’s argument: environmentalists would deny Aboriginal groups the benefits that flow from native title-related agreements; environmentalists live at luxurious distance from the realities of remote and rural Aboriginal poverty and social problems; environmentalists exalt ‘noble savages’. We critique these claims on the basis that they pay inadequate attention to the structural inequities that underpin the market in native title interests and, further, deny the reality that Aboriginal groups often seek to form strategic alliances with green groups, arguing for conservation of their country on their own—or shared—terms. We argue that any appraisal of the present status of ‘green-black’ relations needs to consider these factors seriously.
This week I was at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services (AFAC) conference in Adelaide, presenting work from the Scientific Diversity project in the Research Forum. AFAC is a good opportunity to see people from the sector, chat about research projects, check in on the progress of various projects and, as my colleague Michael Eburn demonstrates every year, score free merchandise from the trade hall.
There were a few interesting things to mention:
- Stuart Minchin from Geoscience Australia talked about some of their current and developing ‘products,’ including Water Observations from Space, which overlays clear satellite observations of surface water since 1987. For flood-minded people, this isn’t exactly an extensive record, but the images reveal some of the ‘pulses’ in surface water generated by flooding and draught.
- Hamish Clarke from OEH NSW presented work on the ‘weather envelopes’ or ‘burn windows’ within which prescribed burns (aka hazard reduction burns) have been, and can be, completed. In short, you do the laborious work of putting together a complete record of when burns have historically happened, look at those weather characteristics, then figure out whether these conditions will increase or decrease under climate change through several models (GCMs). The results are both positive and negative, though, as Hamish stated, this uncertainty ‘hastens the need for policy response’.
- Mark Finney from the (USDA Forest Service) and Rick McRae (ACT Emergency Services Agency) both gave seminars about their respective fire behaviour projects. McRae is part of the team who identified the pyrotornadogenesis event (or fire tornado) in the 2003 Canberra bushfires. He’s a great science communicator, and laid out some of the evidence about vorticity-driven lateral spread (VLS, where fires move perpendicular to wind) from recent fires (his colleague Jason Sharples explains it all here). Finney’s response to his own prompt – ‘How do fires spread?’ – was to say ‘we don’t know,’ but they’re doing some interesting work to find out.
My other recent news is that the special issue of Settler Colonial Studies is out there in the world. Stephen Turner and I had been working on the project for a while, which morphed through various forms from conversations in 2011, to a panel at a conference in 2012, and a call for papers in 2013. The cover image of the special issue (below) is from Kakadu National Park and was taken by my friend Tim Grey. If you have any trouble getting a hold of the journal – get in touch.