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date: 23 May 2024

Looking for the Disaster Behind an Earthquake in a Fishing Village in South Pacific Coast of Mexicolocked

Looking for the Disaster Behind an Earthquake in a Fishing Village in South Pacific Coast of Mexicolocked

  • Rogelio Josue Ramos TorresRogelio Josue Ramos TorresCentro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores de Antropología Social - Frontera y territorio


One of the central premises within the social construction of risk and disasters perspectives is that the latter are something different from the natural events or manifestations to which they usually are associated. From some theoretical proposals, it has been said that the notion of disaster can vary greatly from one society to another, in such a way that what is disastrous in one place is not in another. One way to separate the disaster from the natural event is to read it from the local realities and frameworks of meaning in which it is suffered, where the relationship and intersections between the social and the natural are essential.

On the other hand, to track a disaster can be done based on the way in which people historically perceive risk in their own context and how it is represented, in both daily life and critical moments. There, in these representations, aspects related to the problems or threats that affect their life, their environment, but also their group and social identity are usually reflected.

Bahía de Paredón is a fishing town in the southern Mexican Pacific that was hit by a major earthquake in September 2017, which caused serious damage and losses but, at the same time, also opened a “critical window” to observe, in this case through the social representations that emerged, the historical threats and vulnerabilities that society suffers the most. After recounting the material repercussions of the earthquake and confronting them with the fishermen’s testimonies, it is possible to understand, in a manner consistent with local history, what kinds of risks are perceived and the meaning of the representations at that juncture. These are both useful leads to know where and what the disaster is for that specific group of people.

Since it is a community with a strong presence of different churches, among Bahía de Paredón inhabitants, risk perceptions and their respective representations are both mediated by a religious dimension. Here, religion operates as a historical explanatory platform to face the mysteries or dangers that working at sea implied, but its influence also shapes social representations around those same dangers. This religious reaction was also clearly seen at the most critical moments during and after the earthquake, when many people appealed mainly to their own church looking for shelter and spiritual relief.

In the earthquake context, some of the risk perceptions related to material damages appeared as the continuity of older problems, affecting significantly local activities of daily life. But in social representations, the resignified use of certain elements or factors also appears as a source where fishermen find valuable forces to resist both those old problems and the critical moments caused by the earthquake.

In a broad view, water, whose problems are closely related to the deterioration process of the surrounding rivers and the sea where the fishermen work, presented as a major concern among the inhabitants of the bay. But it is also the water, in this case specifically the sea, where the old fishermen find the symbolic strength to face threats the size of an earthquake. Taking into account the history of the bay and the problems fishermen suffer, the representation of risk, in this case, can be interpreted as an emotional or a psychological mechanism to face the inexplicable but also, in a more complex reading, as a gesture of resistance against the processes that deplete or destroy the wealth or natural elements where fishermen used to find safety and whose recovery they claim from the symbolic level.


  • Case Studies
  • Vulnerability
  • Earthquakes

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