Unraveling the Social Construction of a Flooding Disaster: A Threaded Situation Analysis Approach

November 2020 (VOL. 38, NO. 3)

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Studies of, and solutions to, flooding have tended to focus on scientific and technical approaches to what is viewed as a “natural” disaster. A social constructivist perspective, on the other hand, argues that disasters, such as flooding, are a consequence of decisions and activities that impact nature; therefore, understanding and changing social practices is critical to reducing risk. We conducted a case study of the social construction of flooding in the Town of High River, the community most impacted by the 2013 floods in the province of Alberta, Canada. We examine three situations that exacerbated High River’s vulnerability to flooding: (a) lack of legislative changes (b) insufficient updating of flood hazard maps, and (c) absence of flood risk notification on land titles. We analyze these situations through the recently developed threaded situation analysis (TSA) approach, demonstrating that it allows for a more comprehensive analysis than similar analytical frameworks. As part of this analysis we examine why certain social practices languish or are suppressed while others become dominant and capture actors’ willful attempts to influence practices. Although numerous scholars have critiqued centralized (top-down) approaches to flood risk governance (FRG), our article contributes to the disaster scholarship by unraveling the social construction of the 2013 Alberta flooding disaster and providing evidence of how decentralized (bottom-up) practices can impede changes that are critical for reducing flooding vulnerability.