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Social learning for building community resilience to cyclones: role of indigenous and local knowledge, power, and institutions in coastal Bangladesh

Mahed-Ul-Islam Choudhury, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Canada
C. Emdad Haque, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Canada
Ainun Nishat, Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research, BRAC University, Bangladesh
Sean Byrne, Arthur V. Mauro Institute of Peace and Justice, University of Manitoba, Canada

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-12107-260105

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Abstract

Despite wide recognition of the role of social learning in building community resilience, few studies have thus far analyzed how the power–knowledge–institution matrix shapes social learning processes that in turn foster resilience outcomes. Drawing insights from the biopolitical lens of resilience, we take a critical stance on programmatic interventions for community resilience and social learning, arguing that local knowledge, beliefs, practices, and social memory (SM) are crucial elements in social learning processes for building community resilience to shocks and stresses. In addition, we explore how technologies shape social learning processes and build or strengthen community resilience. Our research, conducted in cyclone-prone coastal zones of Bangladesh, adopts a transformative interpretive framework (TIF) and a community-based participatory approach to empirical investigation. Findings of our research provide evidence that formal institutions frequently exclude indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) from social learning processes, and often subjugate communities to notions of resilience, as defined by nonlocals, that perceive people as subjects of institutional power and objects of scientific knowledge, rather than as active agents. We further found that local communities are able to obtain early warnings of cyclones through ILK of environmental phenomena, such as changing water temperature and animal behavior. Despite an abundance of ILK regarding past cyclones, the 2007 Cyclone Sidr was a surprising event to many and caused considerable loss of life and property. Much of this unpreparedness stemmed from an overall SM deficit—a key to translating knowledge into action. We recommend strengthening efforts to bridge scientific–technical knowledge and ILK to ensure effective social-learning-led resilience outcomes are achieved.

Key words

Bangladesh; community resilience; cyclone; disasters; indigenous knowledge; local knowledge; power; social learning; social memory

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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