PhD defence by Isabelle Desportes

PhD student

Isabelle Desportes

Thursday 5 Nov 2020, 10:00 - 11:30
PhD defence
Spoken Language
This defence will take place online
International Institute of Social Studies
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Due to the coronavirus, the defence will take place online. You can follow the proceedings via ISS Livestream.

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Isabelle Desportes

On 5 November 2020, Isabelle Desportes will defend her PhD thesis entitled 'Repression Without Resistance: Disaster Responses in Authoritarian Low-Intensity Conflict Settings'

How do actors engage with the politics of disaster response and with which implications?

Public defence by Isabelle Desportes

Bringing together knowledge from disaster, humanitarian and conflict studies, in her thesis on Repression without Resistance: Disaster Responses in Authoritarian Low-Intensity Conflict Settings, Isabelle Desportes confronts the uneasy relationship that disaster response actors have with politics and contributes to an improved understanding of the conflict–disaster nexus.

She asks:

When a disaster unfolds in authoritarian low-intensity conflict settings, how do state, civil society and international humanitarian actors engage with the politics of disaster response, and with which implications?

She concludes her thesis by arguing that in authoritarian low-intensity conflict settings, disaster responders engage with the politics of disaster in four major ways:

  1.  The state instrumentalizes disaster response to further political goals in the interests of a few.
  2. State and non-state disaster response actors fear the politics of disaster response, afraid particularly of being framed as having ulterior political motives.
  3. Non-state disaster response actors prefer to socially navigate around or conceal politically sensitive issues, rather than to openly confront them.
  4. There are indications that non-state actors tend to ‘internalize’ a depoliticized approach. Depoliticization efforts do not always come across as being strategically reflected upon.

The thesis identifies the potentially far-reaching implications of depoliticizing disaster response, impacting people’s physical and psychological well-being, social cohesion within and beyond communities, state–aid–society relations and power balances, and the way in which humanitarian operations can be carried out in the future. Systematically depoliticizing disaster response has profound ethical and practical implications; it ultimately constitutes another engagement with politics

Doctoral board


Professor Wil Hout

Doctoral dissertation supervisor

Professor Thea Hilhorst


Dr Roanne van Voorst

Members of the Full Doctoral Committee

Dr Emmanuel Raju, University of Copenhagen

Professor Mark Pelling, King’s College London

Professor Dennis Dijkzeul, Ruhr University Bochum

Dr Gemma van der Haar, Wageningen University

Dr Kees Biekart, International Institute of Social Studies

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