Adopting an ethnographic approach, this paper traces the variousforms that resilience and vulnerability took in a post-tsunami Sri Lankan village,as well as the interpretations of these two ‘action devices’ by bothhumanitarian operators and the survivors themselves. The author shows thatthe practices of community-based disaster management involved approaches,visions and modus operandi that were highly ambiguous and divergent. Indeed,these practices revealed intense contestation around the concepts ofresilience and vulnerability and wide variation in the ways the concepts wereembodied by reconstruction actors. Still vulnerable yet already resilient, thesurvivors were encouraged to employ strategically one or the other of disastermanagement’s Janus faces, calibrating the features that rendered them desirablefor gifting: a moving need for help and an untiring ability to cope withuncertainty. To attract additional aid packages, the survivors had carefully toweigh up the level of resilience achieved through training; they had to appear‘just resilient enough’ to be eligible for gifting, but not so resilient as to tarnishthe image of vulnerability still required to intercept aid. In an attempt to promoteresilience at the community level, the humanitarian actors thus ended upcreating a ‘social drama’ with ambiguous and controversial implications. Paradoxically,the most important lesson the villagers learned during thereconstruction was how to retain their position as a ‘good product of the tsunami’.
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