(Re)Negotiating social contracts in the post-disaster space: pathways of citizenship formation in the Andaman Islands

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis develops the emergent theme of social contract evolutions as a pathway of post-disaster transformations. Bringing classical contractarian philosophy into conversation with contemporary literatures on disasters, citizenship and critical development geography, the thesis develops social contract analysis as an original conceptual lens. It then applies this lens to explore how post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation in the Andaman Islands opened space for citizens to reflect upon and actively renegotiate their political agency from the bottom-up. The thesis adopts qualitative methods to explore the following: shifts in imagined and performed political identities, everyday state-society interactions, forms of local associational life and activism, and channels of local leadership and representation. Fieldwork in the form of household and key stakeholder interviews, field diaries and secondary analysis were conducted over nine months in South India.
The thesis finds that relief and rehabilitation opened space for citizenship formation in a number of ways, contoured by the Andamans’ social-political pre-context. Tsunami rehabilitation gave local people unprecedented exposure to state actors, processes and capacities, and stimulated the arrival of rights-based NGOs where none existed previously. Alongside, geographies of inequitable relief distribution and resettlement magnified pre-existing resentments and social hierarchies, and generated new ones. This combination sharpened local sensitivity to, and consciousness of, citizen rights and state responsibilities. Mobilised by a combination of internal, spontaneous changes in the self, and supported by NGOs’ pluralisation of the governance landscape, citizens emerged more likely – and more able – to raise their voices to local government and demand change. However, these changes were nevertheless shaped and constrained by prevailing governance norms and power relations, and are therefore incomplete, spatialised and fragile.
This research develops social contracts as a lens on renegotiated citizen agency in the post-disaster space, adding richness to current understandings of transformation pathways and indicators.
Date of Award1 Feb 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMark Pelling (Supervisor)


  • Disaster, geography, development, transformation, politics, social contracts

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