Research Project: The Role of Media and Communication Technologies during Disaster in the Philippines

This project seeks to understand how impoverished coastal residents monitor storms for themselves and for their community, and how storm monitoring is a part of understanding media and communication technologies in the Philippines.

Project Summary

How do people living in disaster-prone areas use media and communication technologies to mitigate their vulnerability? This project investigates how communities in central Philippine coastal areas use media and communication technologies to monitor storms, and coordinate community-based strategies for disaster preparedness. Although Filipinos prepare annually for as many as 20 typhoons to pass through the nation (PAGASA, 2009), no authority anticipated that Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) would upturn the technological infrastructure, social institutions, and everyday lives of 14.1 million people on November 8, 2013 (OCHA Philippines, 2013). Tacloban City, Leyte in the central Philippines (Visayas) a highly urbanized center of the disaster-affected area, suffered the most death and destruction. Within the city, Barangay San Jose (“Neighborhood San Jose”), is a peninsular neighborhood at the mouth of San Juanico Channel. People in Barangay San Jose received the full force of Yolanda’s storm surges before the water continued up the channel to Tacloban City’s downtown. This neighborhood alone lost 1,000 of the estimated 10,000 people killed in the typhoon, mostly to storm surges. Filipinos, and especially “Yolanda survivors,” now expect and prepare for the next supertyphoon. While the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world, it is also one of the most connected by communication technologies—ranking among the world’s texting and social media capitals (Pertierra, 2010). Many of the poorest families have at least shared access to a cellphone, radio and television. This dissertation research project asks, therefore: how are impoverished, coastal residents of Tacloban City using media and communication technologies (cellphones, radios, televisions, and internet-accessing devices) in their personal, familial, and neighborhood strategies for disaster mitigation? This research expects to find that culturally specific understandings of media and communication technologies are integral to the way people use these technologies to monitor storms. This research is an original approach to studying media use among disaster-affected people in that it seeks to understand disaster communication in context of the cultural meanings and uses of media and communication technologies.

This project depends on ethnographic methodology including participant-observation, interviews (informal conversation, formal interviews, and group interviews) and surveys to bring forth different types of knowledge and information. I will spend 15 months between September 2016 to February 2018 conducting field research in Tacloban City. This research is broken into two major phases to focus on: 1) uses and meanings of media and communication technologies during the non-storm season, during which I gain knowledge of how these technologies are understood apart from storm monitoring uses; and 2) uses and meanings of media and communication technologies during the wet season/ typhoon season, during which I focus specifically on typhoon monitoring and disaster communication. Storm monitoring is especially important in areas near the coast that are vulnerable to storm surges, like Barangay San Jose in Tacloban City. People living here coordinate strategies for evacuation, and securing property in advance of a storm’s landfall. Research is designed to understand how coastal residents monitor storms for themselves and for each other, and how these actions are integrated into their everyday, non-storm related cultural understandings of media and communication technologies.

See Project Updates

 


Affiliations: Anthropology Department at the University of California, Riverside, USA; Southeast Asian Studies Program at the University of California, Riverside, USA; Communications Department at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines.

Funded by: College of Humanities and Social Sciences Graduate Research Mentorship Program (University of California, Riverside); College of Humanities and Social Sciences Travel Grant (University of California, Riverside); Friends of Anthropology Travel Grant (University of California, Riverside).


Bibliography

Browne, Ka. E. (2015). Standing in the Need: Culture, Comfort, and Coming Home after Katrina. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
Button, G. (2010). Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human Catastrophe. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press.
Ginsburg, F., Abu-Lughod, L., & Larkin, B. (Eds.). (2002). Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
Larkin, B. (2008). Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Madianou, M., & Miller, D. (2012). Polymedia: Towards a New Theory of Digital Media in Interpersonal Communication. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(2).
OCHA Philippines. (2013). Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan (Situation Report No. 22).
PAGASA. (2009). ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, 41st Session (Member Report) (p. 38). Chang Mai, Thailand: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
Pertierra, R. (2002). Txt-ing Selves: Cellphones and Philippine Modernity. Manila, Philippines: De La Salle University Press.
Pertierra, R. (2006). Transforming Technologies, Altered Selves: Mobile Phones and Internet Use in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: De La Salle University Press.
Pertierra, R. (2010). The Anthropology of New Media in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Pertierra, Raul. (2012). The New Media, Society & Politics in the Philippines.
Rafael, V. L. (2005). The Cellphone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines. In Old Media, New Media: A History and Theory Reader (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
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