The politics of expertise in building back better: Contrasting the co-production of reconstruction post-Irma in the Dutch and French Caribbean

Maud Borie*, Arabella Fraser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Reconstruction processes in post-disaster contexts are both technical and political. In the face of growing losses from disasters to human development, we question how the call to Build Back Better (BBB) is rendered authoritative in different governance settings through the mobilisation of expertise and knowledge. Bringing the idea of knowledge co-production from Science and Technology Studies into critical studies of post-disaster politics, we contrast the politics of expertise emergent after Hurricane Irma in French St Martin and Dutch St Maarten. Although they share a common geography, reconstruction processes unfolded very differently across these two island settings. Governance arrangements contributed to the delineation of different ‘recovery spaces’, i.e. the actors, their resources, relationships and visions as constituted by and through different forms of post-disaster knowledge and expertise. Comparative analysis of these spaces shows how highly differential knowledge outcomes emerged out of common processes on both sides of crafting multiple forms of political legitimacy in order to undertake reconstruction activities. Through the notion of interactional coproduction we illustrate how such processes both drew on established historical repertoires as well as contained potential for co-evolution, which cautions against deterministic views of the relationship between reconstruction actors, their interests, and knowledge claims. Mobilising the contrast between two differing governance regimes that nevertheless share common histories of colonial and post-colonial development as well as environmental hazard, we argue that knowledge co-production needs to be understood in order to take advantage of the emergence in post-disaster policy regimes of possibilities for progressive transformation, but that these are ambiguous and contingent moments in which expertise becomes a flexible political resource through which to both constrain or enable Building Back Better.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103813
Number of pages12
Early online date9 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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