What Does Transformation Look Like? Post-Disaster Politics and the Case for Progressive Rehabilitation

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This paper responds to the 'deliberate transformation’ discourse within climate change and disaster scholarship. It calls for a cautious approach to deliberate transformation as a practice space for non-governmental organisations (NGO), arguing that greater clarity is still needed on precisely what form these transformations may take, how and where they might be stimulated,
and—most importantly—who decides. Drawing on a case study of post-disaster NGO interventions in the Andaman Islands following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the paper analyses the role of community-based, rights-oriented education and advocacy programmes in opening space for
communities to critically reflect on state responsibilities, capacities, and weaknesses. It argues that these shifts were potentially transformative for the ways local people interact with the state in Little Andaman; however, it also surfaces pragmatic and ethical challenges to the notion of ‘deliberate transformation’ in practice. The data reveal transformations to be complex, spontaneous, and fundamentally political, with simultaneously divergent pathways of change and re-entrenchment; this presents a deep challenge to external agencies seeking to instigate transformation in planned, linear ways over known timescales. A further challenge relates to deliberate transformation
as a normative endeavour. The paper argues that any attempt to actively instigate deliberate transformations according to pre-determined visions held by external actors is a direct contradiction to the principle that progressive transformation—as defined in the literature—should be shaped deliberatively by the values and priorities of citizens themselves. To avoid diluting the radical power of transformation as a principle, the paper proposes progressive rehabilitation as an alternative
approach in post-disaster contexts, requiring a transformation of the NGO itself from ‘doing to’ to ‘doing with’ citizens, with an emphasis on supporting locally-defined futures. The paper thickens the conceptualisation and evidence base for transformation pathways, with implications for research and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number7
Early online date4 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2018


  • Disaster, politics, transformation, reconstruction, India


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