“'disaster Capitalism', Regular Capitalism, and the Search for a Big Mac: Undermining Assumptions of ‘What Is to be Done' for Marginalized Communities in the Aftermath of Disasters.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: Booth 48
Oral Presentation
Daina HARVEY , Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures the EPA declared 100% of the homes in the Lower Ninth Ward uninhabitable. Nearly five years later there was no police or fire station, no continuously operating health clinic, no grocery store, no community center, and one school where before there had been seven. While academics and the diaspora were worried about the Disneyfication of New Orleans, residents of the Lower Ninth Ward were dealing with what Harvey (2013) has called “secondary violences”—social policies that have resulted in the hyper-marginalization of the community. In the midst of this abandonment non-profits and volunteers have sought to fill the void left by the State. These non-profits have been staffed mainly by non-residents who have brought ideas on rebuilding sustainable communities and environmental justice, and who have been weary of what Klein (2007) has called “disaster capitalism”—which involves, in part, corporations (with the aid of government) using the “shock and awe” of the social disruption to seize taken-for-granted rights and raid the public sphere. Rather than embracing the social justice mission of many visitors and volunteers, residents simply want their neighborhood back. In many instance these ideas and efforts have been rejected as urban experimentation. Rather than a green-grocer residents want a Wal-Mart. Many have opposed projects like rebuilding roads with permeable concrete, the installation of solar panels, farmer’s markets, and the widespread use of vacated lots for guerilla gardening. This paper, based on thirteen months of field-work in the Lower Ninth Ward, looks at the problems of rebuilding marginalized communities through volunteer labor in the aftermath of disasters. Ultimately, I suggest that those problems result in a process of misrecognition whereby rebuilding efforts stall.