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Four Basic Functions of the Model

© Tod Ragsdale, 2001

The impoverishment risks and reconstruction model focuses on the social and economic content of both segments of the process: the forced displacement and the reestablishment. The model is essentially synchronic, in that it captures processes that are simultaneous, but it also reflects the movement in time from the destitution of displacement to recovery in resettlement.

At the core of the model are three fundamental concepts: risk, impoverishment, and reconstruction. These "building blocks" are further split into sets of specifying notions, as will be shown, each reflecting another dimension, or variable, of impoverishment or of reconstruction, (e.g., landlessness, marginalization, morbidity, social disarticulation). These variables are interlinked and influence each other: Some play a primary role and others a derivative role in either impoverishment or reconstruction (largely as a function of given circumstances). Introducing these interlinked concepts considerably broadens the theoretical discourse on resettlement processes, thus helping to illuminate better its nature, inner linkages, pathologies, and socioeconomic remedies.

So constructed, the conceptual framework captures the dialectic between potential risk and actuality. All forced displacements are prone to major socioeconomic risks, but not fatally condemned to succumb to them.

We use the sociological concept of risk[5] to indicate the possibility that a certain course of action will trigger future injurious effects-losses and destruction (Giddens 1990). The concept of risk is posited as a counter-concept to security (Luhman 1993): The higher the risks, the lower the security of the displaced populations. Risks are often directly perceptible, and also measurable through science (Adams 1998), as they are an objective reality. The cultural construction of a risk-be it a social risk or a natural risk-could emphasize or de-emphasize (belittle) its seriousness, could also ignore it, but this doesn't change the objective existence of risks (Stallings 1995).

The modeling of displacement risks results from deconstructing the syncretic, multifaceted process of displacement into its identifiable, principal, and most widespread, components. These are:

(a) Landlessness;

(b) Joblessness;

(c) Homelessness;

(d) Marginalization;

(e) Food insecurity;

(f) Increased morbidity;

(g) Loss of access to common property resources; and

(h) Community disarticulation.

Each will be further examined in turn. Most important is the internal logic of the model. It suggests that preventing or overcoming the pattern of impoverishment would require risk reversal. This can be accomplished through targeted strategies, backed up by adequate financing. Turning the model on its head shows which strategies must be adopted and which directions should be taken:

(a) from landlessness to land-based resettlement;

(b) from joblessness to reemployment;

(c) from homelessness to house reconstruction;

(d) from marginalization to social inclusion;

(e) from increased morbidity to improved health care;

(f) from food insecurity to adequate nutrition;

(g) from loss of access to restoration of community assets and services; and

(h) from social disarticulation to networks and community rebuilding.

The model's dual emphasis-on risks to be prevented and on reconstruction strategies to be implemented-facilitates its operational use as a guide for action. Like other models, its components can be influenced and "manipulated" through informed planning, in order to diminish the impact of one or several components, as given conditions require or permit. That requires considering these variables as a system, in their mutual connections, not as a set of separate elements.

Understanding the linkages among these variables enables decisionmakers to trigger chain effects and synergies in mitigating or remedial actions. As a conceptual template, the model is also flexible, allowing for the integration of other dimensions when relevant and for adaptation to changing circumstances.

Beyond individual projects, this framework can be employed in general policy formulation. It can inform all the social actors in resettlement, namely governments and decisionmakers, social researchers, project designers, the resettlers themselves, implementation agencies, other involved parties. This model can be linked with other conceptual frameworks, to achieve complementarity of perspectives and additional knowledge.

The four distinct but interlinked functions that the risks and reconstruction model performs are:

(1) a predictive (warning and planning) function;

(2) a diagnostic (explanatory and assessment) function;

(3) a problem-resolution function, in guiding and measuring resettlers' reestablishment; and

(4) a research function, in formulating hypotheses and conducting theory-led field investigations.

A brief characterization of each function, or capacity, is necessary.

The Predictive Function

The model's predictive capacity results from the in-depth knowledge of past processes stored and synthesized by the model. This knowledge helps predict likely problems "hidden" in the new situations: These are conceptualized as the eight major impoverishment risks. The predictions are, in fact, early warnings of major social pathologies likely to recur, warnings that can be issued long before the decision to displace is adopted. Thus, the model equips management and planners with a power to anticipate that is essential in planning for risk-avoidance or risk-reduction.

The practical utility of this function is that it enables both the planners and the would-be displacees to transparently recognize the risks in advance, search for alternatives to avoid displacement, and/or respond with mitigatory measures, bargaining strategies, and coping approaches. Governments, agencies, and planners that omit the explicit identification[6] of the risks in advance expose themselves, and the populations affected, to more unmitigated negative outcomes.

The Diagnostic Function

This refers to the capacity of the model to explain and assess, by converting the general prognosis into a specific on-the-ground diagnosis of the project situation at hand. The model functions as a cognitive tool for guiding assessment fieldwork and "weighing" the likely intensity (high? moderate? low?) of one or another impoverishment risk in a given context. The practical utility of this diagnostic function is that it reveals-to policy officials, who decide on triggering displacements, and to the affected populations who incur the consequences-the socioeconomic hazards and possible outcomes of the impending displacements. The specific risk assessment (diagnosis) supplies advance information and recommendations crucial for project preparation and planning of counter-risk measures.

The Problem-Resolution Function

The problem-resolution capacity results from the model's analytical incisiveness and its explicit action orientation. The IRR model is formulated with awareness of the social actors in resettlement, their interaction, communication, and ability to contribute to resolution. To achieve problem resolution, the part of the model that identifies pauperization risks must be fully reversed, "stood on its head," as will be shown further. As a result, the practical utility of the model increases greatly by moving from prediction and diagnosis to prescription for action. The model becomes a compass for strategies to reconstruct resettlers' livelihoods, "pushing" beyond immediate relief mechanisms and making possible a redevelopment orientation.

The Research Function

For social researchers, the IRR model provides a conceptual scaffolding for conducting and organizing their theory-led fieldwork. The model stimulates the generation of hypotheses about relations between key variables in both displacement and relocation. It facilitates the exploration of mutual linkages of and the reciprocal reinforcement or weakening effects between related risks. The research utility of the model comes from its ability to guide data collection in the field and coherently aggregate disparate empirical findings along the model's key variables. It also makes possible comparisons of responses to risks across cultures, countries, and time periods.

Forward to Major Impoverishment Risks in Displacement

Backward to Similarities in Refugee Resettlement Situations


[5] The literature on "risk" is vast and growing, and the modern society itself is more and more defined as the "risk society" (Beck 1990). Frequently the terms "risk" and "danger," or "hazard" and "danger," or "hazard" and "risk" are used as interchangeable and overlapping. Some sociologists (e.g., Giddens 1990) explicitly reject the distinction between risk and danger. Other researchers, however, argue that in some situations a difference exists, and define risk as the probability of an injurious effect resulting from a hazard (Kaplan and Garrick 1981). Consonant with most of the current risk literature, risk may be defined as the possibility embedded in a certain course of social action to trigger adverse effects (losses; destruction; functionally counterproductive impacts; deprivation of future generations, etc.).

[6] Unfortunately, many agencies adopt an "ostrich position," burying their heads in ignorance by avoiding to use the tools of risk identification at the outset.

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