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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Remembering future disasters: Climate change, memory and anticipation in Andean cities

Tomás is a doctoral student at the Institute for European Ethnology and at IRI THESys at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His main research interests are anthropological approaches to disasters, community-based disaster risk management and studies on science and technology.


Photo: Pablo Vera, Agencia Uno
The accelerated processes of climate change in the Andes over the last years have forced authorities to include only recently extreme events like flash floods in regulatory plans, even though they have played a key role in the configuration of urban environments in the region for centuries. These new forms of urban planning propose new practices of memory (how to reconstruct after a disaster?) and anticipation (how to be prepare against extreme events?) embodied in preparation and recovery infrastructure such as flood barriers, meteorological centers and even the relocation of parts of the city to risk-free areas. Such materialities, however, are never free of tension.

They commonly lead to disputes between scientific and economic-oriented modes of planning with indigenous ontologies fighting for the recognition of forces of nature as truly earth-beings with rights. They also lead to disputes with citizen organizations who criticizes centralized planning and call upon the idea of the common good.

This doctoral thesis aims to understand how different practices of remembering and anticipating disasters play a key role in the way cities recover after and prepare for extreme climatic events in the Andes. The project is ethnographic in nature and is based on a comparative case study of Huaraz, Peru and Chañaral, Chile, two cities in the Andean region affected by extreme floods. It builds on the analysis of documents as well as in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation in order to explore how processes of reconstruction and preparedness take place in zones where scientific groups, lay citizens, indigenous movements, the mining industry and state agencies come into conflict, and the role that previous (and future) disasters play in these new urban articulations.


Tomás graduated in Governance of Risks and Resources from Universität Heidelberg (MSc) as well as in Geography and Geomatics (Master) and in Sociology (BA) from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He pursues a joint PhD between the Institute for European Ethnology and the IRI THESys at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Prior to this he was research associate at the Institute of Geography of the Universität Heidelberg and research assistant at the Department of Geography of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.




Tomás Usón Pizarro, Doctoral Researcher
THESys Graduate Program
E-Mail: tomas.uson@hu-berlin.de