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Where blind spots meet: climate risk, conflict and informality

Risk is always constructed: one sees something, expects something, is afraid of something, and all this emerges as real in stories about self and environment. Things become more problematic when one story about one type of risk starts to dominate policy and planning. This means that alternative ideas of risk and opportunity, and alternative understandings of types of risks, are marginalized. Things get worse when formal policies and plans addressing one type of risk simply ignore the limits of formality, of the formal institutional order, in organizing anything. One can hit rock bottom when governmental actors, defining risk and creating policies and plans, are embroiled in conflicts with locals whose lands and livelihoods are affected by those policies and plans, and when those conflicts are not recognized.

This, alas, is what happens often when climate risk policy meets southern urbanism. In Bhubaneswar, capital of the Indian state of Odisha, climate policy was handily used by pro- development actors, threatening to displace droves of dwellers in informal settlements, aggravating latent conflicts. Hence, (climate) shocks are likely to produce more unanticipated effects, conflicts function as the unobserved middle term, and the formal policies and plans to mitigate climate risk contribute to the creation of new and largely unobserved risk.

New Paper in Land, by Debadutta Parida, Sandeep Agrawal and myself:

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