Crafting Disaster Risk Science: Environmental and geographical science sans frontières

Ailsa Holloway


In keeping with the University of Cape Town’s commitment to social responsiveness (, this article traces the process that underpinned the development and introduction of a postgraduate programme in Disaster Risk Science (DRS). It foregrounds the programme’s conceptualisation within the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science (EGS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), with particular emphasis on examining how disciplinary and theoretical coherence was balanced with cross-disciplinary application and social responsiveness.

The article begins by describing the contextual conditions external to UCT’s formal teaching and learning environment that provided the necessary impetus for the new programme. It also traces the iterative relationship between context and curriculum that occurred over the period 1998–2008. This engagement was facilitated and mediated by the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DiMP), an interfacing research and advocacy unit, located within UCT’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Science. An explanation of subsequent content and sequencing of the postgraduate curriculum then follow. They illustrate the programme’s articulation with South Africa’s newly promulgated disaster management legislation, as well as its relevance and rigour in relation to the complex risk environment of South Africa’s Western Cape. The article specifically applies a transdisciplinary lens to the new programmme, in which Disaster Risk Science is conceptualized as a Mode 2 knowledge, but one that draws theoretically and methodologically on environmental and geographical science as its foundation or Mode 1 domain. It concludes by examining the DRS programme’s positive contributions both to scholarship and local risk management practices as well as the obstacles that constrained the new programme and continue to challenge its institutional sustainability.

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