Weathering the World – University of Copenhagen

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Weathering the World.

Recovery in the Wake of the Tsunami in a Tamil Fishing Village

PhD Thesis by Frida Hastrup, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2009

The project was financed by the Danish Research Agency for The Humanities and affiliated the research school for Anthropology and Ethnography

Superviser: Dr.phil. Esther Fihl, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies


The thesis focuses on the recovery process after the Asian tsunami in December 2004 as undertaken by members of a fishing community on the coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The work is based on a total of ten months of anthropological fieldwork in the fishing village of Tharangambadi, conducted as three consecutive stays covering a period of a little more than three years ranging from February 2005 to April 2008. The primary analytical ambition in the thesis is to explore the various ways in which the tsunami survivors in the fishing village have acted to make their local world inhabitable during the years immediately succeeding the disaster. The overall argument is that such effort to re-inhabit the local world in the aftermath of the tsunami must be seen as inseparable from an overarching attempt to contain experiences of social, environmental and economic uncertainty of a more general order. In analytical terms, the thesis demonstrates how the recovery process undertaken by the tsunami survivors aims at restoring - or indeed creating - a sense of subjective agency and control in the face of both objectifying disaster and precarious living conditions. Theoretically, such merging of disaster with existing structural challenges has a bearing on how anthropologists of disaster can approach issues of cause and effect, of adaptation and closure, and of the work of time in post-disaster settings.



  Introduction: Processing Disaster and Recovery

  •   The Line of Inquiry
  •   Life Worlds and Recovery
  •   Modelling Disaster Response
  •   The Context of Adaptation
  •   Transformation and Timing
  •   Anticipation and Future Trajectories
  •   The Structure of the Argument

1. The Field: Entrance and Emergence

  • Arrival
  • Emergent Fields
  • The Topographic Turn
  • Place and People
  • Fieldwork on Foot
  • A Walk of the Village

2. The Dwelling: Homes and Hazards

  • Build Back Better
  • Bereavement and Moving On
  • Appropriating Homes

3. On Forecasting: Wind and Water

  • Weather or Not
  • Dropping the Anchor
  • Forecasting and Prevention
  • In a Climate of Changing Tides
  • Responsibility: Agents and Agencies
  • Local Level Relief

4. On the Limits of Community

  • Recuperating Subjects

5. In the Event of Disaster: Onslaught and Opportunity

  • In Need of Repair
  • Certifying the Future
  • The Ties that Bind
  • Rallying for Safety

6. Materialisations of loss: Monuments and Memories

  • The Materiality of Loss
  • Future Memories

7. Conclusion: On New Plots