Accepted paper:

Turner flooded: social drama, communitas and emergency response


Franz Krause (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ESRC funded research among flood victims in Gloucestershire, UK, this presentation discusses exploring people's responses to emergency as 'social drama' according to Victor Turner, particularly scrutinising the applicability of 'communitas' for affected people.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation discusses the benefits and challenges of analysing disaster response in terms of Turner’s ‘social drama’. It draws on material from a current ESRC funded research project on flood memories and community resilience in Gloucestershire, UK. A number of previous studies have noted that disasters frequently catalyse community action and spirit. Implicitly or explicitly, some of these point to the parallels between disaster experience and ritual performance as described by Turner. The common threat of the disaster is seen to create ‘liminal’ conditions for a group of people that fuse them together into a state of ‘communitas’. The performance of this ‘communitas’, in turn, has been argued to foster social change and build resilience. Analysing narratives of the 2007 floods in Gloucestershire four years after the event, discourses and practices are discernible which indeed position the floods as a catalyst for neighborhood help and resident associations. Nevertheless, ‘social drama’ is necessarily open-ended, and we must treat the social implications of floods as emergent and multifaceted, rather than as pre-determined paths. In the Gloucestershire case, important questions include: to what extent do recurring floods retain their emergency, and hence liminal, characteristics? How, if at all, are social processes rehearsed during a flood carried over into ordinary life, and how are they stabilised there? And in what particular ways does the ‘social drama’ perspective illuminate processes of community resilience and wider social transformations?

panel W020
Uncertainty and reflexivity: the legacy of Victor Turner