‘Building back better’ is neoliberal post‐disaster reconstruction

Wesley Cheek, Ksenia Chmutina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


‘Building back better’ (BBB) has become one of the most common expressions in disaster risk reduction. Disasters offer an opportunity to encourage improvements not only in the structural safety of buildings and infrastructure, but also in addressing structural inequalities and injustice. Consequently, they are an opportunity to make things ‘better’. However, in the context of neoliberalism, the definition of ‘better’ does not always mean ‘good for all’. We argue here that BBB allows for widely varied definitions of what is and what is not a risk, who is and is not responsible, and what forms of action are to be taken in response to these dangers. This serves as a designation for capacity to make ‘better’, but not actively change, social and political systems that initially create risk. Disasters and its terminology, therefore, are not ideologically neutral and should thus be deliberately unpacked and critically evaluated rather than accepted unquestioned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-609
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Early online date5 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022


  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Social Sciences


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