2. Culture and risk: path dependencies

After devastating disaster, many understandably would like nothing more than to ‘move on’ and start afresh. ‘Building back better’ on a disaster site points the way to a brighter future. However, we would be remiss to forget about the past. This chapter looks at the crucial importance of cultural heritage, followed by cultural memory, for growing or maintaining a ‘safety culture’ and understanding differential responses to disaster events.

In fact, disasters are important identity shapers. Cultural identity is bound up with history: disasters deeply shape people’s sense of history (at national level e.g. in 1953 for the Netherlands) and in so doing shape culture. Historical choices tend to have a path dependency impinging on future developments. But also the ‘’shadow” of past treatment may hang over the acceptance of help and acceptance of preventative measures. The cultural background of society, and the cultural filter through which hazard information is interpreted and adapted to, are continually changing as the balance between risk and mitigation alter (Alexander, 2000).

Communities have proven to learn from shocks and transform their cultural systems to ensure the reduction of future impact of recurrent events. The variations over time indicate that cultures are not static, but are continuously evolving. Changes, however, take time and do not come about over night as they have to be socially desirable and accepted and valuable to the community at hand. In addition to variations over time, there are also variations within cultures or subcultures. For instance, communities confronted with specific challenges to their livelihoods like recurrent hazards, often develop an assortment of techniques, tools and artefacts to effectively deal with the hazard at hand.
This means that it is important to recognize that ‘one size fits all’ solutions are not likely to work when it comes to dealing with culture(s).


2.1. Cultural heritage and disaster in today’s cities
2.1.1. Cultural heritage has important symbolic and material value for community identity
2.1.2. Cultural heritage has socio-economic value for cities
2.1.3. Cultural heritage may serve as a source of resilience to communities
2.1.4. Protecting and preserving cultural heritage
2.1.5. Dilemmas in reconstructing cultural heritage after disaster
2.2. The role of memories of disaster
2.2.1. What is cultural memory?
2.2.2. Manifestations of cultural memory
2.2.3. Why is cultural memory important for communities?
2.2.4. Why is cultural memory important for disaster managers?