Flood Disaster Subcultures in the Netherlands: the Parishes of Borgharen and Itteren

Engel, K.E.; Frerks, G.; Velotti, L.; Warner, J.F.; Weijs, B.


The Netherlands knows a persistent threat of flooding. To adapt to this dangerous reality, the Dutch have cultivated what disaster research literature has labeled ‘disaster subcultures’ or a set of cultural (tangible and intangible) tools to deal with the recurrent hazard. While there is abundant attention for the way the Dutch ‘coastal’ and ‘low-lying’ communities deal with the recurrent threat of (coastal) flooding, less is known about the way the Dutch ‘high-lands’ deal with the yearly threat of (fluvial) flooding. This article presents the findings of an explorative research endeavor (2011–2013) aimed at discerning if the disaster subculture concept has contemporary relevance in the Netherlands, particularly with respect to flooding, and if so, whether applying this lens would reveal more about the nature of existing disaster subcultures. Because less is known about the Dutch ‘high-lands,’ we chose to look into the existence and attributes of disaster subcultures in the parishes Borgharen and Itteren, which experience a systematic threat of flooding. Our findings suggest that the disaster subculture lens is valuable as it enables the empirical appreciation of disaster subcultures, even in a small country like the Netherlands, and it unveiled elements of these neighboring parishes’ flood reality that otherwise might have gone unnoticed and that seem central to understanding these two parishes’ levels of vulnerability and resilience. It is our contention that the concept ‘disaster subculture’ makes a greater understanding possible of the cultural context from which vulnerability and resilience to specific and recurrent threats emerge.