Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Throughout Asia, political reforms are devolving state authority to sub-national jurisdictions to improve governance processes and outcomes by imbedding them in local contexts and capacities. The purpose of this multidisciplinary workshop is to examine decentralized governance from the perspective of environmental disasters. Often portrayed as the preferred means for bringing government closer to the people, decentralized governance is expected to more effectively respond to societal needs by empowering people and their communities to politically articulate their expectations and priorities through public decision-making. Decentralized decision-making is also expected to more quickly respond to disasters due to proximity to events and better ability to mobilize social resources and local knowledge in planning for, responding to and gaining resilience to future disasters.
Realizing the many hopes of decentralization encounters well-known bottlenecks and opposing perspectives. Local governments are frequently without sufficient authority, qualified personnel or adequate material resources in times of disaster. Participatory governance mechanisms can equally be thwarted by local power relations and patronage networks. When large-scale disasters occur, centralized government agencies in tandem with donor-assisted programs often assert command over local governments rather than working with them as partners.
At the same time, innovations in decentered disaster governance are appearing alongside an engaged civil society and active non-government community advocacy and planning organizations. Their successes do not negate the need for centrally coordinated engagement in disaster governance. Rather, the challenge is to build multi-level capacities through governance institutions at all scales to identify issues that would most benefit from higher level decision-making processes without compromising the efficacy of community engagement in the politics of disasters.
In addition to raising questions about governance practices, a focus on the intersection between centralized and decentralized regimes of governance through the lens of disaster reveals how their disruptions can lead to new alignments and compounding impacts that transcend existing political jurisdictions. Because many disasters cannot be neatly contained within territorially demarcated boundaries, both vertical and horizontal arrangements among government units can be destabilized. In such cases, the ‘rupture’ of disastrous events may produce new transborder networks, relationships and connections based upon shared problems, ideas, knowledge and technologies within and among nation-states. Environmental disasters may also compel local governments to seek or foster wider networks of cooperation in post-disaster recovery priorities and programs. In all cases, rigid routines of existing political and administrative arrangements may prove incapable of meeting the exigencies of disasters, and more flexible responses can emerge that do not fit neatly into received ideas about territorially bounded hierarchies of governance.
We invite submission of papers from young and established scholars, policymakers, planners and development practitioners to more fully explore these and other questions about the reflexive relationships between decentralization and disaster governance in urbanizing Asia. We encourage applicants to consider empirical case studies and theories within comparative Asian contexts to draw lessons that can be learned from Asia for decentralized disaster governance regimes in other urbanizing world regions. Core questions that will guide the workshop proceedings to speak to related themes across disciplinary and geographical boundaries include:
· How can we conceptualize the relationship between devolved systems of governance and environmental disasters at multiple scales and across a broad time scale of preparedness, response, and long-term recovery and resilience?
· Does the devolution of political power effectively lead to participatory forms of disaster governance? What is the evidence that this occurs, and what are the bottlenecks that inhibit more inclusionary disaster governance processes?
· How do environmental disasters reveal or even magnify relations of power and social cleavages? Do post-disaster power relations change toward greater concentrations of power, more inclusive governance, or no significant change at all? What lessons can we draw from assessing the politics of disasters?
· To what extent do international and transborder networks of cooperation among decentralized governments emerge from shared disaster experiences? What are the promising dimensions of this kind of cooperation, and what are the major bottlenecks in creating collaborative horizontal linkages among localities?
SUBMISSION OF PROPOSALS
Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission to Ms Valerie Yeo email@example.com by . Successful applicants will be notified by 10 October 2014 and will be required to send in a completed draft paper (5,000 - 8,000 words) by 31 January 2015.