Doctoral student Albert J. Faas (University of South Florida), with the guidance of Dr. Linda M. Whiteford, will undertake research on how processes of disaster, displacement, and resettlement affect and are affected by both traditions of collective action and unequal local power structures. Particular attention will be paid to possible links between informal exchange relationships and post-event survival. Understanding the micro-processes of disaster response and recovery is critical to the future design and implementation of effective disaster responses.

The research will be conducted in highland Ecuador where relocation because of active volanoes offers an ideal opportunity to examine these processes. The researcher will focus in part on traditional communal labor groups (called "mingas"). Preliminary research has suggested that there is a tension between cooperative, mutual support practices and unequal power relations in disaster-induced resettlement communities. This dynamic, which can be presumed to exist in other post-disaster contexts as well, may affect resettled individuals' access to disaster relief and development resources. The researcher will collect qualitative and quantitative data to address two overarching research questions: (1) To what extent are cultural practices of reciprocity eroded in the disaster and resettlement process? (2) To what extent are cultural practices of reciprocity leveraged to exert influence over the distribution of resources in the disaster and resettlement process? Data will be gathered through unstructured and semi-structured interviews with 90 participants and key informants, the examination of public records of attendance at key events, and participant observation at public meetings and in daily life. The first goal is to determine whether or not reciprocity and communal labor continue after resettlement. The second goal is to determine if different ways of participating in reciprocity and communal labor are associated with different degrees of influence in collective decision-making.

The research is important because in the aftermath of both natural and manmade disasters quick but economical relief responses are essential. Understanding how to work with rather than against existing cultural practices will make such efforts both more effective and more efficient. Findings from the research will contribute to the growing body of multi-scale and inter-scalar theory of disaster cultures. Funding this research also supports the education of a graduate student.

Project Report

This dissertation study addresses gaps in anthropological knowledge about how reciprocity—and a specifically Andean form of reciprocity—works in disaster and resettlement settings. This study looks at the practices of reciprocity in a disaster-affected community and a disaster-induced resettlement in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Specifically, it examines two aspects of reciprocal exchange practices in these sites. It first looks at some of the factors that affect the continuity of reciprocal exchange practices, which other studies have found to play a vital role in recovery from disasters and resettlement. It then looks to the roles of unequal power relations in the practices of reciprocity and a particularly Andean form of reciprocity and cooperative labor, the minga. In so doing, it identifies power-laden dynamics in the practice of reciprocity that tend to be overlooked in studies of social support and mutual aid in disasters and resettlements. These dynamics are critical to an examination of reciprocity in these contexts because they have important implications for the distribution of scarce relief and development resources. This study identified several interesting dynamics in the practices of reciprocity, minga cooperation, political power, and resource access and distribution in disaster-affected and resettled communities in highland Ecuador. First, we saw that the practices of reciprocity and minga cooperation were negatively affected by wage labor participation and the residential distance between community members, which was an outcome of the disaster, displacement, and resettlement processes. The negative relationship between wage employment and minga participation was stronger in the resettlement community, built around newly-created institutions, than it was in the more traditional, disaster-affected community. There were, however, mitigating factors, such as village politics and social divisions and the influence of outside institutions that were associated with variation in these practices as well. Second, we found that minga participation was tightly bound up with participation in reciprocal exchange relations in the traditional, disaster-affected community, but that minga participation was more strongly associated with institutional strategies and a codified set of community obligations in the resettlement site. Third, we found that political power—specifically, brokerage roles and the ability to influence decision-making—was also strongly associated with participation in reciprocal exchange relations. And finally, we found that the networks of actors most closely related to powerful brokers through reciprocal exchange relations accessed a greater share of aid and development resources in both communities, although there were mitigating factors in each.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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University of South Florida
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