MA Peace and Conflict Studies

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Disaster Governance

Unit code HCRI60261
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course addresses the increasing need to explore and critically understand the governance of disasters, which is often marginalised in disaster risk management theory and practice. In this way the course will focus less on logistics and operations and more on political and socio-economic processes that intersect with disaster management at all scales. The course will provide students with the theoretical concepts and knowledge to critically understand the complexities of disaster governance at multiple scales. This will be illustrated throughout with the engagement of applied case study contexts. The course will involve the study of governance processes from the perspectives of political economy and political ecology to understand how global political and economic systems shape experiences of disaster in different parts of the world. Furthermore, the course will focus on how disasters intersect with political space and political change by analysing how disasters can be opportunities to promote dominant political narratives, or indeed resist such narratives. The course will explore the ways various institutions and actors in many different capacities politicise the various phases of the disaster management cycle.


This course unit aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the linkages between governance, disaster politics and disaster management. The module introduces disaster governance as an emerging concept in the disaster research literature that is closely related to risk governance and environmental governance. The first half of this course aims to introduce the concepts of disaster governance, disaster politics, disaster capitalism and political economy to provide a theoretical baseline for students to engage with decision making processes in a disaster context in the second half of the module. Students will be able to apply these concepts to understandings of competing political and apolitical narratives of disaster events and how they shape uneven experiences of disaster and institutional change.  This course emphasises the importance of viewing disasters as political events and as such students will work towards understanding why disasters are still dominantly understood as technical and apolitical and who these narratives serve. Critically, attention is paid to theories around post-disaster political space, disaster capitalism and the depoliticisation of disaster institutions and actors.  The course will be characterised by the introduction of new concepts which are then applied to contemporary and historical disaster contexts.



Each lecture will be followed up by a 90 minute tutorial that will explore the issues and themes raised in the preceding lecture and assigned readings. This will be student based learning and led by a graduate teaching assistant.


Lecture One: Introduction to Disaster Governance


Lecture Two: Political Economy of Disaster


Lecture Three: Disaster Politics


Lecture Four: Disaster Capitalism


Lecture Five: Re-Politicis


Lecture Six: Policy Change and Disasters


Lecture Seven: Disaster Citizens


Lecture Eight: Disaster Governance Integration


Lecture Nine:  Group presentations





Teaching and learning methods

The module will be delivered through eight lectures, eight seminars, which include class exercises and a final group presentation session in Lecture 9. The lectures will be supported by case studies that will include descriptive disaster cases and applications of disaster theories. There is a strong conceptual and theoretical element to this course but empirical evidence will be used throughout to demonstrate how these theories relate to real disaster contexts. Seminars and exercises will be student-led based on the reading and led by the tutor.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the links between governance, disaster politics and disaster management
  • Identify key theories and research that demonstrate different approaches to disaster governance
  • Appreciate how and why disasters are often apoliticisised in the theoretical and practical considerations of disaster management and the barriers this creates to effective disaster management strategies
  • Understand how the political stratification occurring within the different phases of the disaster cycle affects different actors in different ways
  • Critically understand how disasters are represented in policy and how they set agendas for future policy development
  • Develop an awareness of how other global processes such as conflicts and economic crises intersect with the disaster management cycle

Intellectual skills

  • Critically interrogate the literature related to disaster governance, particularly how theory shapes practice
  • Develop a critical understanding of the relationship between politics and disasters, using contemporary and historical case studies
  • Compare and contrast different post disaster political spaces
  • Critically reflect on how and why different narratives of disasters are mainstreamed or marginalised and how this is connected to the wider political economy of place
  • Articulate and defend their own positions on the value and importance of linking governance, disaster politics and disaster management 

Practical skills

  • Develop an understanding of how politics can be incorporated into disaster management strategies
  • Understand how academic work relates to practice and interrogate the effectiveness of apolitical disaster management strategies
  • Demonstrate analytical and debating skills with peers and tutors through tutorials and online discussions and forums
  • Show effective use of library resources drawing on relevant academic and grey literature, and seeking out information through the use of virtual sources to underpin learning and gathering information for written work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop communication skills for a variety of audiences
  • Work effectively in a team and engage stakeholders
  • Develop, plan and achieve individual research outcomes
  • Develop analytical skills and the ability to articulate ideas verbally and in writing
  • Develop confidence articulating ideas and opinions during group discussions

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

  • oral and written feedback on group presentations
  • written feedback on individual essay (assignment 1) that will be returned to students according to SALC guidelines and time limits
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Birkland, T., (2006), Lessons of Disaster: Policy Change after Catastrophic Events, Georgetown University Press, New York


Jones E.C and Murphy, A.D. (eds), (2009) The Political Economy of Hazards and Disasters (Society for Economic Anthropology Monograph Series), AltaMira Oress, New York


Klein, N., (2007), The Shock Doctrine, Penguin Group, London


Lundahl, M., (2013), The Political Economy of Disaster: Destitution, Plunder and Earthquake in Haiti (Routledge Explorations in Economic History), Routledge, London


Pelling, M. and Dill, K., (2009), Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes, Progress in Human Geography, pp1-7


Tierney, K., (2012), Disaster Governace: Social, Political and Economic Dimensions, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 37: 341-363

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nathaniel O'Grady Unit coordinator

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