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5ABLCF04 Deconstructing Disaster


Credits: 15
Pre-requisites: none
Teaching pattern: Ten two-hour seminars.

Module description: 

This module stems from one simple assertion: that there is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’. Conceptually grounded in social theory around the social construction of nature, the module invites students to unpack and critique widely-held ideas about disasters – specifically, that they are extra-ordinary phenomena driven by 'out there' nature, the notion that certain people and places are inevitably more vulnerable to risk than others (namely, those in the Global South), and that disasters are a-political. Addressing each myth in turn, the module will deconstruct where these ideas come from, why they are powerful, and why they matter politically, by drawing on cutting-edge research on post-coloniality, the politics of responsibility and social justice in critical disaster studies. Each myth will be explored from the perspective of how they inform disaster management in practice (through real-life case studies of disaster preparedness and response), and how they are reproduced in mainstream cultural discourse, using film as a lens. Film scholars have long-emphasised the role of popular cinema as an essential site of contemporary meaning-making, and this module invites students to think critically and creatively about how film imagery, narrative and characterisation serve to reflect, normalise and perpetuate particular ideas of disaster. Students will undertake an analysis of disasters-on-film via an independent group project and poster presentation, and an individual essay on conceptual aspects of the module.

This module has interdisciplinary appeal, bringing together critical social science approaches to disasters and development with humanities-oriented techniques in visual analysis. This combination seeks to equip students with a rich understanding of how real-world social and environmental problems are fundamentally shaped by processes of meaning-making and cultural reproduction.

Film students should note this is not a traditional film module; it is taught by a geographer from a social science perspective. It offers AandH students the opportunity to engage with geographical literatures, in part through the medium of film.

Module aims:

This modules aims to:

  • Provide conceptual grounding in the social construction of nature as it relates to disasters
  • Enable students to recognise and critique dominant myths and narratives of disaster, using interdisciplinary analytical approaches
  • Using film as a lens, to provide opportunity for students to think critically and creatively about how disaster myths and narratives are reproduced in society 

Learning outcomes:

By the end of the module, a successful student will be able to:

  • Draw on scholarly literature on the social construction of nature to explain why disasters are not ‘natural’ but rather are social, political and cultural
  • Demonstrate skills in critical analysis to deconstruct the ideologies and social relations underlying dominant disaster myths, and explain what political work they do
  • Critically analyse how films can serve to reproduce disaster myths and narratives
  • Demonstrate team work, creativity and verbal communication by designing and delivering a group poster presentation 

Core reading:



Assessment pattern: group poster presentation (35%), 2,000-word essay (65%). 

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.


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