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«A thesis submitted to the faculty of San Francisco State University In partial fulfillment of The requirements for The degree Master of Arts In ...»

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Political Economy Challenges the Traditional Approach in Natural Hazards In the early 1970s Richard Chorley challenged human ecology theory, which was central to natural hazards research. Chorley (1973) argued that the role of humans in the natural environment was too complex to be cast into an ecology framework.

Humans have a controlling, dominant role over their natural environment, thus the socioeconomic and political factors hold more significance than the natural environment

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(Chorley 1973). As damages from disasters continued to rise (Susman, O'Keefe, and Wisner 1983), more and more hazards scholars embraced the political economy perspective, arguing that the constraints imposed by economic, political, and social structures had been ignored by traditional hazards research (Marston 1983). They asserted that these constraints create aspects of social vulnerability to natural hazards and need to be addressed (Marston 1983).

Kenneth Hewitt (1983) argued that the traditional human ecology approach focused on identifying and solving geophysical problems, such as flooding, via technical procedures, such as flood control, and/or relief. Hewitt sought to shift the emphasis in natural hazards away from geophysical events to the social structure surrounding a hazard, noting that natural disasters “depend upon the ongoing social order, its everyday relations to the habitat and the larger historical circumstances that shape or frustrate these matters” (Hewitt 1983, 25). He proposed that the “means to avoid or reduce risk are found to depend upon the ongoing organization and values of society and its institutions” (Hewitt 1983, 25). For a person struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis, addressing the risks associated with an infrequent hazard was unlikely to be possible.

Hewitt (1983) further criticized traditional hazards research for regarding a hazard event as an unusual occurrence or a disruption to normal life. Susman, O’Keefe, and Wisner (1983) agreed that vulnerability to a hazard resides within the structure of normal, everyday life. Vulnerability to a hazard is determined by the socio-economic

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class structure, where those in higher socio-economic classes have less risk and are better able to recover from a hazard event than those in the lower classes (Susman, O'Keefe, and Wisner 1983, 264). Susman, O’Keefe, and Wisner provide a case study of an earthquake in Guatemala in 1976 as an example. The damages from this earthquake fell disproportionately upon lower-income people whose homes were not structurally able to sustain the earthquake as opposed to higher-income people who were able to afford more expensive structures better designed to survive earthquakes. In this example vulnerability came from lacking the means to afford structurally sound homes and having fewer resources to rebuild homes, instead of solely from the hazard event.

Michael Watts (1983) faulted the traditional human ecology approach for projecting “a rather mechanical…view of the world in which individuals, organisms, populations and critical environmental variables interact or interface” (Watts 1983, 235). Watts argued, that “much of the [traditional] work demonstrates unequivocally that social context and political economy mediate individual perception” (Watts 1983, 240), but that the human ecology approach doesn’t account for this. He called for addressing “the highly complex social production of material life” (Watts 1983, 235).

An Integrative Approach Emerges As hazards research progressed utilizing a political economy perspective, some researchers expressed a concern that the constraints posed by political-economic structures were sometimes emphasized to the exclusion of individual choice or action

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(Palm et al. 1983). Others argued that neither political economy nor environmental determinism should exclusively guide geographic research; for example, Doreen Massey argued, “that neither ‘the social’ nor ‘the natural’ can be conceptualized in isolation from the other” (Massey 1984, 8).

Partly as a result of these arguments, some researchers began to integrate the political economy and the human ecology perspectives. Susan Cutter called this line of research “hazards in context” (Cutter 1994, 76), and noted: “this interactive model utilizes many traditional hazard elements, such as physical processes, population vulnerability, adjustments, and losses, but imbeds them in larger political, cultural, social, economic, or historical frameworks” (Cutter 1994, 76). James K. Mitchell, Neal Devin, and Kathleen Jagger (1989) used a contextual model to analyze a major storm in England, arguing that putting a hazard response into context allows consideration of impacts outside the realm of the human-environment interaction, such as scientific advances that create additional options for adjustments or population migration into an area prone to a hazard due to an outside cause. They noted that the response to the storm they studied was muted by several factors, including a major stock market crash.

Their study promoted a “natural hazard system” model, connecting two subsystems, hazard components and hazard contexts. These subsystems roughly correspond to elements emphasized in the human ecology approach and the political economy approach respectively (Mitchell, Devin, and Jagger 1989).

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“integrative framework” proposed by Risa Palm (1990) and the “integrated approach” proposed by Graham Tobin and Burrell Montz (1997) also call for addressing humanenvironment factors along with the political-economic factors when analyzing flood hazard response. The foundation for Palm’s integrative framework comes from a combination of several different bodies of work, including realism and structuralism from geography and from the social sciences the linkages between micro and macro elements. The result is an “integrative,” “cross-level” analysis rooted in probabilism (Palm 1990, 79). Probabilism allows for the influence of the environment while also acknowledging that humans have some control over their environment – neither environmental determinism nor possibilism (Johnston et al. 2000).

Palm’s integrative framework of hazard response denotes elements at macro, meso, and micro levels, all of which are linked and situated within the environment of the hazard (Figure 1). The macro level identifies the societal structures constraining hazard response, including the political-economic setting and cultural values. The meso level examines the people, such as “urban managers,” organizations, and policies acting in intermediary roles between society and individuals, and their influence on hazard response. The micro level examines hazard response by individuals, or households, focusing on the individual’s awareness (or perception) of the hazard and their corresponding action or response. The linkages between the different levels and the environment in which they all reside are an important part of this framework, as they

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FIGURE 1. Palm’s Integrative Framework for Evaluating Hazard Response. Modified from Palm 1990.

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levels. People in positions of “power” or in decision-making roles exist at the micro and meso levels. Palm notes that individuals acting in meso-level roles are driven not only by their meso-level duties but also by their own individual experiences, goals, and values, and can significantly alter the response of the meso-level element. This linkage between individuals acting in a meso-level role and the meso-level element they represent is key to understanding the outcome of the San Pedro Creek Flood Control Project.

Palm points to a lack of research being done in natural hazards that integrates the macro and micro levels in one analysis (Palm 1990). Although linkages or interactions between and within levels are complex, understanding all levels and their interactions is critical to having a comprehensive, realistic understanding of the factors influencing hazard response at a specific place. This understanding can also be useful in predicting possible responses at the same place (Palm 1990).

Susan Cutter (1991) criticized Palm for calling her approach an integrative framework, suggesting that the existing terminology “hazards in context” would have fit her approach. Likewise, John Cross refers to Palm’s integrative framework as a “contextual model in examining human responses to hazards” (Cross 1991). However, Cutter found Palm’s call for integrated analysis in hazards research “important” (Cutter 1991, 702) and Cross found that Palm “sufficiently validates the effectiveness of the approach in research,” which “can improve understanding and explanation of human responses to hazards” (Cross 1991).

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(1997) strongly resembles Palm’s integrative framework. Tobin and Montz examine characteristics of the physical environment as well as social and political-economic characteristics to assess hazard risk, vulnerability, and response. In addition to integrating the physical environment factors with the social and political-economic factors, Tobin and Montz (1997) go one step further and call for integration across different hazards in an attempt to better understand all hazards. Tobin and Montz seek to further develop broadly applicable theories using their integrated approach, unlike Palm whose framework focuses on a hazard response in one particular location.

Palm’s framework is a useful tool for an empirical study of the San Pedro Creek Flood Control Project as a response to the flood hazard along San Pedro Creek. Given its focus on hazard response in a particular location, Palm’s integrative framework fits together well with a historical geography of response to a hazard over time. Blake Gumprecht’s historical geography of the Los Angeles River (Gumprecht 2001) provides details on the hazard response to flooding of the river and the many different elements influencing the response over time. This work could easily be placed within Palm’s framework. Gumprecht describes the hazard in its physical environment, noting for example the frequency of flooding in the floodplain during winter storms, and provides details on societal (macro-level) influences, such as the summer migration of new people into the area, people (micro-level influences) who build on the floodplain not realizing the area is susceptible to winter flooding. Local politicians (meso-level influences) also

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played a role in response to the Los Angeles River flood hazard by supporting or opposing flood control measures. These are just a few elements and linkages brought to light using Palm’s framework with a historical geography of the Los Angeles River that influenced why the river was turned into a concrete channel.

In addition, by establishing different levels of elements influencing hazard response, macro, meso, and micro, Palm removes any value judgments or preconceived notions implicit in utilizing either a human ecology or political economic perspective. If a researcher approaches hazard response using human ecology, the researcher generally assumes that the individual is of prime importance to the response. Likewise, if a researcher utilizes a political economic perspective, they look for societal or politicaleconomic structures or constraints on response. Palm’s integrative framework allows researchers to begin by looking at a response, then working backward to search for the elements involved in the response at each different layer, and from there to evaluate the influences on those elements, including the linkages between the elements. The origination of the influences on the different elements can then be related back to theories proposed within human ecology or political economic perspectives.

Finally, by establishing a meso level Palm’s integrative framework also calls attention to the meso-level influences, which can substantially influence hazard response and may be overlooked in the human ecology and political economic perspectives. As the response to the flood hazard along San Pedro Creek demonstrates, the people and policies at the meso level can have a strong influence on hazard response, and the

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individuals acting in meso-level roles can modify their meso-level element based on their own values, experiences, and goals.

Palm’s integrative framework helps develop a comprehensive understanding of the influences on a particular response at a particular location and helps identify elements that may be involved in future responses, as well as potential issues. Because the San Pedro Creek Flood Control Project developed over decades, a historical geography utilizing Palm’s integrative framework exposes many elements involved in this hazard response. A broad range of sources provided historical detail on the flood control project for this study, including reports from the Corps and/or the City of Pacifica, San Pedro Creek Flood Control Committee meeting minutes, articles in the Pacifica Tribune, personal interviews, and historical maps. Different sources provided information on one or more of the different levels.

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Human interactions with the San Pedro Creek Watershed heavily influenced the environment with the flood hazard that has plagued the suburban population in San Pedro Valley since shortly after the first development in the 1950s. Given the focus on human interactions with the environment, particularly at the individual level, the environment of the flood hazard is developed from the human ecology perspective of traditional natural hazards research.

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