Calvillo, N., Garde-Hansen, J., Lima-Silva, F., Trajber, R., & Albuquerque, J. P. de. (2022). From Extreme Weather Events to ‘Cascading Vulnerabilities’: Participatory Flood Research Methodologies in Brazil During COVID-19. Journal of Extreme Events. https://doi.org/10.1142/S2345737622410020.
Extreme weather events are entangled with each other and with other extreme events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-racist protests, drought, a housing crisis, strikes, or climate emergencies, as well as with more general inadequacies due to national, economic, and political upheavals and accreted vulnerabilities from long-term policies or inactions. Effects of extreme weather events are intensified by ongoing social injustices like poverty and structural racism, a housing deficit, and the consequent informal and unplanned occupation of hazardous areas, such as riverbanks, and areas of previous social-environmental disasters. In the context of Brazil, the ongoing deforestation in the Amazon (agribusiness, mining and illegal wood) provoking droughts and energy shortages in the region creates further vulnerabilities that are felt globally.
In this paper, our primary contribution to these inter-connected scenarios is to describe methodological interventions that were made in response to COVID-19, and to show how those changes provided new insights into vulnerability processes of both subjects and researchers. During a larger project (Waterproofing Data), focused on the case study research areas of São Paulo and Acre (Brazil) wherein our wider team conducted flood-risk community research, we were forced to rethink our approach. We moved away from the singularity of the flood event and its impacts toward acknowledging the cascading conditions of social vulnerability (caused by weather, health, social and political conditions).
In this paper, we directly address the ‘cascade of vulnerabilities’ that the flood-prone communities already encounter when researchers seek to engage with them. We open new avenues to reconsider citizenship, space, and innovation in terms of the key challenges that our methods encountered when conducting participatory flood research methodologies, particularly during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to November 2021. Through flood research in Brazil, we articulate methodological contributions from the arts, humanities, and social sciences for more realistic, just, and caring research practices within and about weather in the context of ‘slow violence’ [Nixon, R (2013). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP].