Political Economy and Everyday Disaster

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 15:15
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Steve MATTHEWMAN, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Despite all of the good work done on Disaster Risk Reduction, we still find ourselves in a disaster glut. All available evidence suggests that disasters are increasing in frequency, scale, cost and severity. Strangely, at the height of their necessity, sociologists of disaster find themselves on the intellectual periphery. In particular, they cite a lack of conceptual clarity for their marginality. Theorisations of disaster have remained unchanged across the last half century. Disasters are typically seen as spectacular events that are concentrated in time and space. They stop normal social functions. In other words, our definitions of disaster have remained static across the period we now refer to as the Great Acceleration. Yet arguably this time period has witnessed the greatest changes in all of human history. This paper advances a new definition of disaster: large scale damage to life and living systems. It does so as a way of thinking critically about the root causes of the Great Acceleration, and by extension of the production of most of today’s vulnerabilities, like environmental degradation and unparalleled wealth disparities. In other words it offers an extension of Naomi Klein’s (2007) disaster capitalism thesis by considering the ways in which normally operating capitalism itself constitutes an “everyday disaster”. Particular emphasis will be given to the ways in which neoliberal policies create and profit from disaster, and how we might remedy this.