A rise in the likelihood of severe flooding is one of the major symptoms of a planet undergoing rapid climatic and ecological transformations. Such transformations require researchers to think differently about how we live with water. Interdisciplinary research is a crucial tool in this ‘rethinking’. Flood researchers must navigate through a plurality of ways of understanding relationships between people and water.
This series of talks and a participatory workshop addresses the tensions that exist in working between disciplines and seeks to establish meaningful synergies for future collaboration. The series will explore:
1) the place of the social in flood research;
2) how interdisciplinarity might help address the various geophysical, cultural, political and ethical intersections of flood research; and
3) the different ways of approaching the science of flooding.
In exploring the social in flood research, there are tensions based on different worldviews and understandings of reality. More quantitative scientific approaches understand the social as one component part to be factored into analysis. This is based on a more mechanistic understanding of the world, where predictions about the future can be made to varying degrees of certainty according to how much data we have about the way the world works. This understanding of reality grounds more conventional approaches to flood management based on modelling, prediction and mitigation.
On the other hand, more qualitative approaches recognise the unpredictability and uncertainty that emerges from differing levels of agency and power between people, water and the systems in which they are embedded. Such a worldview serves to not only understand specific people-water relationships but also open up possibilities for living with water differently. How can interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the social in flood research navigate these tensions in worldviews and research methods and productively work between them?
Meanwhile, it is hard to escape the reality that we are asking these kinds of questions amidst climate and ecological crises which bring a renewed sense of urgency. But what is at stake, ethically and politically, when we are confronted with such urgency? In advocating for particular ways of knowing and particular ways of making decisions, whose voices and perspectives might we be excluding? For example, the politics of flood risk management has traditionally involved prioritising certain forms of knowledge over others, while the social impacts have been disproportionately felt by those already marginalised economically, racially and geographically. Could improving our understanding of past flooding by studying the underlying geophysical processes help us plan for more equitable futures? This highlights the normative aspects of flood research. How might interdisciplinarity work at these intersections to focus attention on issues around justice and power?
Relatedly, we will ask how interdisciplinarity can help approach the science of flooding in the Anthropocene. Researching in this context recognises the power of flooding both in its physical impacts on society as well as in shaping cultural imaginations and narratives about humanity’s place in the world. It is important that the contributions of a variety of scientific disciplines ranging from climatology to geomorphology are considered in order for the diverse consequences of flooding hazards to be understood over different temporal and spatial scales. However undertaking scientific research poses new challenges around approaching certainty and the predictability of future floods that can either be a point of contention or a useful synergy between disciplines.