Development and divergent post-disaster trajectories in a mountain village: Temporal dynamics of differentiation after the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake Public Deposited

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  • Following the massive and devastating 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, the Chinese state called for major reconstruction to be completed within three years. Reconstruction was subsequently folded into longer-term development goals, an approach often considered ‘building back better.’ However, few studies have examined long-term trajectories of household recovery following the earthquake and reconstruction-as-development. We conducted a case study of long-term trajectories in a mountain village in Pengzhou City, Chengdu Municipality, which was severely impacted by the earthquake. Based on in-depth qualitative methods, including semi-structured interviews conducted with 59 villagers and local leaders between September 2018 and May 2019, we analyze a variety of distinct post-earthquake trajectories, including different patterns of recovery and experiences of development for villagers in a concentrated settlement and those who chose owner-driven reconstruction on their pre-earthquake house lots. We find that concentrated settlement created significant barriers to income generation and problems of inadequate housing to accommodate demographic growth and family reproduction. For those who chose in-situ reconstruction, differentiation happened over a span of a decade, as a result of changing development visions and construction regulations, as well as secondary earthquake hazards. These processes have both exacerbated existing inequalities in a small, relatively homogenous village, and created new ones. Some households experience the post-earthquake period as an acceleration of development, whereas others experience a sense of moving backwards in time to a less-developed status. Our study demonstrates that earthquake recovery cannot be considered a single, discrete event, but must instead be understood through long-term trajectories that intersect with both political processes and place-based events. Moreover, we show how qualitative, in-depth studies can shed light on processes otherwise obscured when earthquake recovery and development are conceptualized as apolitical, technical problems.

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Journal Volume
  • 124
Last Modified
  • 2020-12-23
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  • 0305-750X
  • 1873-5991