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Unit information: Politics of Disasters in 2021/22

Unit name Politics of Disasters
Unit code POLIM0038
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Christie
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


Disasters can be caused by geological phenomena, the environment, or can be man-made, and these can be relatively slow onset events, or can occur suddenly with little to no notice. The social impact of these events can be dramatic: natural disasters alone kill around 70,000 people per year on average, and directly affect over 21 million people per year. Yet, disasters have received relatively little attention within the study of international relations, security and development. This unit starts from the assumption that there are no ‘natural’ disasters, and that they must be understood as inherently socio-political events. The unit will provide an overview of the evolution of disaster studies in general, and will explore pressing questions about the politics of disasters. It will introduce students to core concepts around disasters, including risk, hazards, vulnerabilities and resilience. Throughout we will examine how social categories can impact on one’s exposure to risk. In addition we will examine the relationships between state legitimacy and disasters, as well as pressing questions related to intra and inter-state conflict, and international responses to disasters.

Unit Aims:

  • To provide students with an understanding of core concepts in disaster studies
  • to enable students to appreciate how social and economic conditions can shape individuals’ and communities’ vulnerabilities to disasters
  • to familiarize students with debates and policy concerns over how to best communicate about natural and man-made hazards, and how to prepare for and respond to disasters
  • to develop in students an appreciation of how disasters can impact state and regional stability
  • to provide students with an understanding of emerging international efforts to address disasters.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate engagement with debates over the meanings of core concepts in disaster studies (including hazards, risk, vulnerability, and resilience)
  2. Demonstrate an evaluation of contributions of different approaches to disaster studies prevalent in sociology, anthropology, and politics
  3. Demonstrate an ability to critically assess the impact of disasters on local and regional politics
  4. Demonstrate an ability to understand and critically engage the key debates surrounding disaster planning and response
  5. Demonstrate an ability to use knowledge acquired in this unit as a foundation for critically assessing disaster risk reduction strategies.

Teaching details

MSc = 2 hour seminar

The following methods will be used:

  • Seminar discussion
  • Lecturing (within seminar)
  • Note taking
  • Seminar presentations
  • Essay writing
  • On-line discussion
  • Independent research

This unit will involve a combination of seminar, lectures (within seminar) and group activities to meet its stated objectives. Most of the classes will be broken into two parts, with the first portion being a seminar style for students to discuss the readings and themes, and the second being a formal lecture where the instructor will cover the week’s themes in greater detail. The lecture will follow the seminar to enable the students to critically explore the weeks’ themes, and to undertake a deep-reading of selected texts.

Where appropriate multi-media will be used to provide students with a sense of the impact of disasters.

The unit will make use of the blackboard system to have a directed conversation amongst the students and the instructor about the course material. Students will be expected to participate in the online conversation by contributing short comments to discussion threads.

Assessment Details

Formative: Student Presentation – Linking a week’s conceptual discussion to a specific case study. This will allow for provision of feedback from the unit owner on the extent to which students have demonstrated an ability to meet the aims and intended learning outcomes of the unit (Intended Learning Outcomes 1 and 3 in particular), with suggestions for further improvement.

Summative Assessment (100%) 4000 word essay – The summative essay will allow for assessment of students’ ability to meet the Intended Learning Outcomes 1-4 by requiring students to develop an in-depth essay argument over a length of 4000 words that draws upon relevant readings, materials and debates covered in the unit.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. POLIM0038).