ZiF Research Group

Communicating Disaster


Convenors: Prof. Dr. Jörg Bergmann (Bielefeld), Prof. Dr. Heike Egner (Klagenfurt), Prof. Dr. Volker Wulf (Siegen)


The question of what a disaster is can usually be answered without any hesitation by those who are directly affected. Even in the academic discussion, disasters are usually conceived of as clearly defined entities which have distinct causes and effects. Such a perspective, however, easily loses sight of the iterative quality of disastrous events as well as of the social constitutedness of disasters, which are recognized as such only through interpretive procedures. Moreover, disasters can be said to present an intersubjective social reality and thus to be constituted through communicative practices alone.

The research group assembled scholars from the natural and social sciences, humanities and information technology to investigate this dynamic and discursive quality of disasters from a range of different disciplinary perspectives. The conceptual approach of understanding disasters as framed or even constituted by communicative processes was complemented by two heuristic concepts: space and time, which offer distinctions between disasters and non-disasters. From a theoretical stance, observation theory and ethnomethodology proved relevant, while methodology-wise the group was characterised by a range of qualitative research methods, which highlight the unique inner workings of specific disasters, thereby preventing early theorisation and abstraction. Within this research frame, a broad range of topics could be addressed:

These topics were discussed during regular weekly jours fixes and a series of workshops and conferences. In these discussions, the group enormously profited of the tension between intensive intra-disciplinary debate and the irritations that arouse from the unfamiliarity between different disciplines.

The research year was accompanied by the art group XPERIMENT!, which conducted an art project on emergency stocks. This opened up a whole new context within which the researchers could reflect upon and discuss disastrous events.

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