Assemblage Theory and the Future of Disaster Risk Management in Kalimpong, India

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Kalimpong is West Bengal’s newest district, annexed from Darjeeling district in 2017. That year also saw the third major uprising of a century-long movement for a separate Indian state of Gorkhaland, of which Kalimpong would be a part. At least 1225 people have been killed by landslides in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong since 1950. Countless landslides have led to infrastructure disruption, land loss, property damage, and displacement.

This study investigates the causes and impacts of landslides in Kalimpong. Taking a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Assemblage approach, it does this by asking the following questions: 1) What are landslide disasters in Kalimpong? 2) What is the DRM Assemblage of Kalimpong?

This thesis is the first to explicitly adopt a DRM Assemblage approach in empirical research. In so doing, it makes novel theoretical contributions to assemblage geographies and disaster studies by developing the interrelated concepts of DRM Assemblages and disasters-in-the-making. To guide these theoretical contributions, I answer the following question, which is broken down further in Chapter Two: How can the DRM Assemblage approach better connect with concepts relating to vulnerability, social difference, and structure?

The qualitative, ethnographic methodology involved 63 interviews with over 100 interviewees, one focus-group discussion with a landslide-affected community, and field notes. 45 interviews were with landslide-affected people. That the majority of the interview data is based on the perspectives of landside victims is a novel contribution in itself. Previous studies on disaster risk in the region have relied more on key informant perspectives.

The findings link landslides in Kalimpong to sociomaterial, geopolitical assemblages. The thesis empirically details how these assemblages make landslides possible, focussing particularly on the role of geopolitics and infrastructural development. The findings also show how geopolitical assemblages perpetuate and exacerbate landslide impacts in Kalimpong by limiting people’s access to political and economic resources that could offset these impacts.

Actionable recommendations for the reduction of landslide disaster risk in Kalimpong are made. These recommendations are also relevant to the study and practice of landslide risk reduction elsewhere. The recommendations advocate for research on landslides to be more locally led whilst calling for a reconceptualization of landslides as geopolitical processes.







Date of Award1 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAmy Donovan (Supervisor) & George Adamson (Supervisor)

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