Disaster on standby
Joe Deville (Lancaster University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the contested forms of participation that disaster preparedness organisations engage in while on standby. Specifically, it examines a set of Swiss disaster preparedness organisations for which standby is a particularly intensive yet simultaneously frustrating mode of behaviour.
Paper long abstract:
Disasters seem to be embody a clear relationship to participation: their capacity to destroy lives, property, social and economic relations over a vast scale demands responses that involve action and activity from a range of parties. But what registers of participation do disasters demand from those tasked with *waiting* for such calamitous events? This paper examines the sometimes contested forms of participation that disaster preparedness organisations engage in while waiting, while on *standby*. Specifically, it examines a set of disaster preparedness organisations for which standby is a particularly intensive yet simultaneously frustrating mode of behaviour. Partly for historical reasons, Switzerland has developed arguably the world's most sophisticated and disaster response infrastructure. And yet the disaster preparedness organisations involved are rarely called into action given the - by comparison even to neighbouring countries - paradoxically low risk of disaster. The paper brings together ethnographic research undertaken in the heart of the Swiss civil protection infrastructure, and in particular in its dedicated civil protection force, with archival research to explore the intersecting registers of participation involved in the day performance of disaster preparedness in Switzerland, in both its recent and more distant past. The paper argues that civil protection involves a simultaneous attempt to technologically and organisationally stabilise standby - to make it into a liveable and actionable temporal category - whilst integrating as one of its essential components the hope of its erasure. This is a precarious activity beset by tensions, ruptures, and overflows, as different registers of participation intersect.
Disasters and participation: inventive/disruptive encounters