Risk, resilience and response-able practice in Australia’s changing bushfire landscapes

This paper explores the policy concept and community enactments of ‘shared responsibility’ for disaster resilience in the context of wildfires in Victoria, Australia. Since the state-wide Black Saturday fires of 2009, we contend, first, the State’s decreasing ability to protect its citizens has shifted the responsibility for adapting to uncertainty to individuals, and second, this responsibility has been translated into compliance approaches to disaster risk management. We develop the concept of two distinct imaginaries at play: the reactive and the relational life. Policy discourse invokes a reactive life, a normative resilience maintaining the status quo, rather than a potentially transformative relational process enabling citizens to be ‘response-able’. Facing uncertainties, government legitimacy hinges on increasing citizen safety, with decentralised community resilience programs intended to manage and reduce disaster risk by emphasising shared responsibility. For citizens, however, ‘shared responsibility’ reveals an increasing tension in relation to the risk and uncertainty associated with life on the newly designated ‘fire-prone’ periphery, and within expectations of government. We conclude that the emphasis on responsibility as the work to be done in community-based resilience programs demands a more nuanced set of expectations that reflect citizens’ relational life as a starting place for rethinking safety and security.

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Volume 39 Issue 3

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