Macquarie University
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Expert-centred discourses and Indigenous autonomy in post-disaster settings: insights from Wutai Rukai experiences in Taiwan

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posted on 2022-03-28, 09:37 authored by Minna Hsu
This thesis explores ways in which expert-centred discourses have shaped post-disaster circumstances in Taiwan. By focusing on the experiences of Indigenous Rukai people affected by Typhoon Morakot in 2009, the thesis contextualises and critiques “expert”-centred disaster response, recovery and reconstruction. Focusing on local Wutai Rukai settings in southern Taiwan, the thesis considers how expert-centred discourses and associated approaches can displace complex pre-disaster histories, geographies and cultures. Starting from a disaster event, these discourses are mobilised with state-sanctioned procedures that assume the incapacity of the local to respond and recover without expert intervention. The thesis argues that locally-contingent, culturally and historically contextualised people-to-people, people-to-environment and people-to-cosmos relationships fundamentally shape the pre-disaster circumstances of communities and localities affected by so-called natural disasters. Such relationships, glossed as “Country” in Indigenous Australian settings, ground understandings of how the disaster created by Morakot was situated in Wutai Rukai histories and geographies. Institutional capacity deficits embedded within the disaster discourses and approaches were mobilised in the wake of Morakot, contributing directly to procedural vulnerability of Wutai Rukai institutions and reinforcing colonial processes already present prior to the “disaster” of the typhoon. Privileging technical experts in the reconstruction process simultaneously marginalised and silenced more locally and culturally nuanced recovery discourses and approaches. The privileging of technical expertise in such instances is part of a wider process, where the enduring implications of expert-centred discourses reflect how the dominant culture defines successful post-disaster responses in Indigenous domains. In response to the combination of natural and unnatural disasters that characterised the situation of Wutai Rukai people after Morakot, this thesis lays foundations for a different way for the agents and agencies of technical expertise to better understand and engage with the capacities and expertise of local people in their own lives, values, and aspirations in post-disaster settings.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Reframing post-disaster recovery in indigenous settings -- 3. Speaking truth to power -- 4. Lost, found, troubled in translation -- 5. Procedural vulnerability and institutional capacity deficits in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction -- 6. Displacing expert-centred post-disaster reconstruction -- 7. Decentering experts, decolonising disasters -- Postscript.


"Research conducted under cotutelle agreement between Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University (Australia) and Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, College of Indigenous Studies, National Dong Hwa University (Taiwan)" -- title page. Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 169-186

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Geography and Planning

Department, Centre or School

Department of Geography and Planning

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Richard Howitt


Copyright Minna Hsu 2016. Copyright disclaimer:






1 online resource (xxvi, 200 pages) colour illustrations

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