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Sophie Blackburn


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Biographical details

Sophie is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Geography at King's College. Her PhD explores post-tsunami rehabilitation and recovery in South India, and implications of the same for evolving trajectories of citizenship and development. Sophie holds an MSc in Disasters, Adaptation and Development from King’s and a BA in Geography from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Prior to starting her PhD she co-edited a book titled 'Megacities and the Coast: Risk, Resilience and Transformation' (2013, Routledge) in which she is also co-lead author for one chapter and a contributing author throughout. In 2013 she also co-authored a report on Resilient Cities for the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) as a consultant for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Her first solo authored paper (on the politics of scale surrounding disaster governance in Jamaica) was published in Geoforum in 2014.

Research interests (short)

Making Waves: (Re)negotiating social contracts through tsunami rehabilitation and recovery in South India and the Andaman Islands

Sophie is a member of the Environment, Politics and Development research group

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Research interests

Sophie's PhD stems from an interest in the relationship between geographies of uneven development, community empowerment and agency, and disaster governance. She is particularly interested in how responsibility for disaster risk is distributed between actors and across scales, and the implications of this for social justice and vulnerability reduction.

Her PhD research looks at outcomes of disaster rehabilitation in areas of South India affected by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. She uses qualitative analysis to explore the evolution of social values, aspirations and community networks in the ten years following the disaster, and associated changes in pathways of representation and communication between communities and the state. Her fieldwork, undertaken over 9 months in 2014, was based in two communities respectively in Karaikal (Pondicherry Union Territory) and Little Andaman (Andaman and Nicobar Islands). She is particularly interested in the factors which have facilitated the opening of political spaces for the renegotiation of inequitable power relations and social institutions since the tsunami. She is seeking to understand the factors that have driven and shaped these evolving spaces of governance, and implications of the same for shifting trajectories of development along the South Indian coastline. Sophie adopts the social contract as a theoretical framing in her PhD research, to emphasise the taut balance - both perceived and real - of responsibility and entitlement between the state and citizens.

Early findings suggest the post-tsunami aid and rehabilitation process has opened previously isolated coastal communities up to a variety of 'outside' influences (particularly state actors and international NGOs). Exposure to these new networks has, in some cases, altered local perceptions around the type of entitlements they expect to receive from the state, and led to changes in how communities voice these demands to the state. These findings contribute to improved understanding of the ways that more participatory models of democracy and citizenship can evolve in post-disaster settings, both in South India and elsewhere. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities


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