Netherlands, Utrecht

Cultural Emergency in Violent Conflict and Disaster Relief

when 30 July 2012 - 10 August 2012
duration 2 weeks
fee EUR 865

This course outlines a new comprehensive and responsive framework to address how culture and emergency relate and focuses on rethinking the ways in which cultural identities are involved in violent conflict and disaster relief.

Recurrent violent conflict involves humanitarian emergencies as well as the targeting and deliberate destruction of cultural identities and their expression in cultural heritage. Groups increasingly proclaim their identity, assert their rights, and express or resist difference through culture and cultural heritage. As the meaning of cultural objects is contested, cultural heritage has itself become a site of controversy, violent conflict and abuse. Looted art from armed conflict is trafficked for sale in a burgeoning global commercial market. Tourism at local heritage sites has sparked disagreements among local populations, preservationists or commercial traders. International tensions about restitution, return and repatriation point to a complex linkage of heritage, cultural identity and international law. The serious inconsistencies among the various legal and policy instruments in response to cultural emergency will be explored.

The role of culture in complex humanitarian emergencies not only comprises the area of violent conflict. The course also deals with the cultural dimensions of disasters, such as the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa. Whereas the first priority of humanitarian efforts during the immediate emergencies is to save lives, an understanding of the cultural implications of emergencies may significantly increase the relevance and effectiveness of emergency response. As yet, however, there are no policies in the humanitarian and development aid sector in response to the cultural aspects of conflicts and disasters, reason why policy innovation has emerged as a priority. Two main elements will be explored. First, the disaster vulnerabilities involved as well as the disaster risk perceptions differ among cultures and relate to how communities and individuals assimilate their cultural assets: as a barrier or a factor of resilience. Moreover, culture also plays a significant role in post-disaster recovery, reconstruction, and trauma recognition – in brief, in resilience mechanisms. The course will thus explore the nexus between culture, vulnerability and resilience as part of disaster coping strategies. A second element involves the politics of culture in humanitarian disaster relief. Humanitarian assistance tends to be largely disconnected from the cultural values and identities of the local people involved. This clearly implies an analysis of the organisational cultures and intercultural skills of humanitarian and development aid organisations. What then would be the implications of perceiving cultural identity and the protection of cultural heritage as an integral part of humanitarian interventions and policies?

Course leader

Dr. Berma Klein Goldewijk and Prof. dr. Georg Frerks

Target group

The programme is especially designed for second and third year undergraduate students interested in culture, conflict studies and humanitarian issues.
The course builds upon on the humanities and social sciences, but is also fitting for interested students from related or other disciplines.

Course aim

This course outlines how culture and emergency relate and focuses on rethinking the ways in which cultural identities and cultural heritage are involved in violent conflict and disaster relief. It suggests ways to strengthen humanitarian policies and practices to deal with culture during emergencies.

Fee info

EUR 865: Course + course materials + housing


Utrecht Summer School doesn't offer scholarships for this course.

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