Successful PhD defence by Isabelle Desportes

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

In her thesis, she investigated how state, civil society and international humanitarian actors engage with the politics of disaster response, and with which implications. Her research focused particularly on disasters unfolding in authoritarian low-intensity conflict settings.

Her findings suggest that, in such a context, 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.

Photos and recording of the defence

Some photos taken during the defence

PhD defence Isabelle Desportes - 5 November 2020

PhD defence Isabelle Desportes - 5 November 2020

Researcher