Annemarie Samuels, Assistant Professor, Leiden Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University

Disaster Narratives: The Remaking of Everyday Life After the Indian Ocean Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused immense destruction and over 170,000 deaths in the Indonesian province of Aceh. It was followed by the largest humanitarian operation the world had ever seen, and by a range of social and political transformations in this war-afflicted region. How did survivors remake their lives in the face of these losses and changes? What does post-disaster reconstruction look like for the people who have most at stake in the process? This talk explores these questions, by drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Aceh and by bringing together analytical perspectives from psychological anthropology and the anthropology of disaster. Focusing on survivors’ disaster narratives and silences, it shows how post-disaster recovery is not only a social and political, but also a profoundly subjective process. Individual histories, emotions, creativity and ways of being in the world inform the remaking of everyday life as much as social, political and cultural formations and transformations do. This process is full of ambiguities: Grief remains as life goes on, optimism is intertwined with disappointment, remembering with forgetting, and structural poverty with a political rhetoric of success. Disaster narratives, moreover, matter not only because they give insight into post-disaster recovery in all its paradoxical forms, but also because the embodied act of telling itself becomes part of the remaking of a world that has been dramatically unmade. Finally, they show us how everyday processes of recovery are indispensable for any large-scale reconstruction effort to succeed.

Annemarie Samuels is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University. She earned her PhD from Leiden University, and has been a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam and a Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Fellow at Harvard University. Her work on disaster, narrative, care, ethics, Islam, and medicine in Indonesia has appeared in various journals, including American Anthropologist, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Ethos and Indonesia, and she is co-editor, with R. Michael Feener and David Kloos, of Islam and the Limits of the State: Reconfigurations of Practice, Community and Authority in Contemporary Aceh (2015). Her monograph After the Tsunami: Disaster Narratives and the Remaking of Everyday Life in Aceh is forthcoming (2019) with the University of Hawai’i press.

Organised together with Forum for Asian Studies, Stockholm University.

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