EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P029)
Disaster capitalism as creative destruction [DICAN]
Location U6-43
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Mara Benadusi (University of Catania, Department of Political and Social Sciences) email
  • A.J. Faas (San Jose State University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Mara Benadusi & AJ Faas
Discussant Katherine E. Browne

Short Abstract

This panel features papers that ethnographically analyze how disaster capitalism influences economic and material life of people and their moral economies, as well as the uneven spaces for change that may undermine the structured coherence upon which this neoliberal trend depends.

Long Abstract

The anthropology of disasters has for nearly a decade been studying the trend of relying on the private sector to deal with catastrophes and other forms of large-scale devastation, also known as "disaster capitalism". Ethnographic studies in different contexts prove that state and nongovernmental institutions often seize opportunities afforded by crises to advance policies that strongly reshape economies, livelihoods, and affected populations' access to spaces and natural resources. Indeed, this trend of making instrumental use of catastrophe to empower capitalist interests can increase vulnerability for many affected peoples. This can add new layers of precarity to the material and subjective experience of disaster, at times when people are too busy reeling from the disaster to reasonably anticipate or contest the consequences of these measures. Nevertheless, the ways in which neoliberal trends take shape locally depend heavily on the political and economic contexts within which catastrophic events take place and social relations existing in a place. In this panel we draw on the Marxist-oriented notion of "neoliberalism as creative destruction" for studying existing neoliberal maneuvers in the wake of both so-called natural and human-mediated disasters. We invite papers that ethnographically analyze how disaster capitalism influences economic and material life of people and their moral economies, as well as the uneven spaces for change that may undermine the structured coherence upon which this neoliberal trend depends. Capital "accumulation by dispossession", in fact, can occur only through chance discoveries and provisional compromises in the wake of intense sociopolitical struggles.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Petit capitalisms in disaster, or the limits of neoliberal imagination

Author: A.J. Faas (San Jose State University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses disaster capitalism as the production of capitalist subjects “empowered” by the state and NGOs via initiation into the special knowledge and crafts of small enterprise.

Long Abstract

Disaster capitalism is typically defined as a systematic and opportunistic reconfiguration of economies and economic regulations in service of capitalist interests under the cover of environmental crisis (Gamburd 2013; Schuller 2008; Klein 2007). This paper offers another largely complementary variety of disaster capitalism—the production of capitalist subjects, new petit capitalists "empowered" by the state and NGOs via initiation into the special knowledge and crafts of small enterprise. This is at once an often well-intentioned strategy and one that reveals the limits of neoliberal imagination; the inability to envision recovery but through individualistic, entrepreneurial endeavors. In my ethnographic analysis of recovery from the 1999 and 2006 eruptions of Mt. Tungurahua in Ecuador, I present cases of state and nongovernmental organizations providing aid and recovery opportunities to affected highland peasants. These projects—subsidizing white onion production, small animal husbandry, tourism, and a farm-to-table program—are guided by well-meaning actors, though the projects suffer from poor planning. What these projects reveal, is that people can be moved to assume certain subjectivities by limited "inventories of possibility" (Marino and Lazrus 2015:342) and an internalization of dominant norms, truths, and structures (Boelens 2016). Even as the Andean subjects in these cases posture their culture and practices as moral, communitarian alternatives to capitalist greed, local economic strategies take on entrepreneurial characteristics that articulate with neoliberal ambitions of state and global institutions; peasant ambitions and desires are produced and invoked as if they were locally derived, while at the same time being co-constituted by dominant interests.

'Capitalising the local and no lights in the dark': extreme weather, neoliberalisation of local knowledge and new 'paradoxes of participation' in local community storm response activities in the UK

Author: Irena Leisbet Ceridwen Connon (University of Dundee )  email

Short Abstract

This paper provides an ethnographic exploration of local responses to extreme weather disruption and the influence of neoliberal ideology in policy initiatives aimed at enhancing local abilities to respond to weather-related emergencies in the UK.

Long Abstract

Local communities in the UK are experiencing increases in the intensity, frequency and duration of extreme weather events. Prolonged electricity outages are a major side-effect of these events and further compound the challenges faced by community members and emergency services in safeguarding human well-being. At the same time, financial cutbacks to public infrastructure further reduce the abilities of emergency services to adequately respond to weather-related emergencies. Recent UK and Scottish Government policy initiatives have sought to address the increased risk to human well-being resulting from public expenditure cutbacks by increasing local community and voluntary sector involvement in the development of emergency response strategies. Electricity companies have also become involved in promoting the development of 'formal' community resilience activities by working in partnership with local government, community councils and voluntary sector organisations. Examining data obtained from ethnographic research in four UK communities in Scotland and England, this paper provides critical exploration of the drivers and local effects of the development of these multi-organisational, cross-sectorial, community emergency response initiatives. It reveals how locally-embedded 'informal' knowledge and adaptation skills have become enmeshed within neoliberal ideologies, agendas and practices, and suggests that this has led to moral 'paradoxes of participation' in local storm planning and response activities that not only undermines local capacity to adapt to weather-related disruption, but constrains local efforts to creatively develop their own initiatives that utilise local knowledge and empower local voices in locally-envisioned politically progressive ways.

A socio-spatial analysis of accelerator processes in 2012 Emilia earthquake

Authors: Fabio Carnelli (University of Milan-Bicocca)  email
Ivan Frigerio (University of Milano Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to analyze socio-spatial accelerator processes at stake during a disaster management. The potential role of a mixed-methods research for anthropology of disasters is also taken into account.

Long Abstract

A disaster is usually represented and narrated by survivors as a disruption in their daily lives and life stories, as a rift in time and space. At the same time, as shown in disaster research, an earthquake can "act" as an accelerator of processes at different levels: the factors might be already present in the social system but their "being there" is amplified or revealed by the "faults" apparently activated by the triggering agent. The management of 2012 Emilia earthquake (Northern Italy), reported by Italian media as "the workers' earthquake" followed by "multi-ethnic tent cities", is currently presented by local institutions as a virtuous model driven by regional and local actors. Considering the emergency trajectories of households and commercial activities, it becomes otherwise clear the role of some dynamics of neoliberal processes already on going, such as the relocation of population and services, spatial segregation of migrants, the "development" of the historical centre, the dialectic between ambiguous rhetoric of identity and socio-economic hegemonic stances.

Through spatial and statistical analysis of National Census data and local datasets (pre and post-earthquake) related to one of the most affected town (Mirandola), we elaborate a socio-economic zoning of the earthquake and introduce the "time" variable in the "space of the disaster". From a methodological perspective, our aim is to produce a secondary data analysis in order to build a frame for a following ethnographical fieldwork and make a reflection on the potentiality of GIS and mixed-methods researches for the anthropology of disasters.

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The demiurgic power of oil: petro-capitalist imaginaries in the shadow of old smokestacks

Author: Mara Benadusi (University of Catania, Department of Political and Social Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnography in a petrochemical corridor in Southern Italy, this paper presents a critique of an idea commonly associated with the theory of disaster capitalism, namely the doctrine of “shock economy” .

Long Abstract

Petro-capitalism is a form of capitalism that hinges on the production, exchange, and consumption of petroleum (Behrends, Reyna, Schlee 2011). This model of economic development has suffered a period of acute crisis in recent decades, giving rise to financial, geopolitical and socio-economic consequences. Even the capitalist imaginaries that emerged in the areas most closely involved with what has been defined as "the demiurgic power of oil" (Appel, Mason, Watts 2015) are conditioned by this paradoxical trajectory of negative growth. Based on an ethnography in a petrochemical corridor in Southern Italy, this paper presents a critique of an idea commonly associated with the theory of disaster capitalism, namely the doctrine of "shock economy" (Klein 2007). According to this doctrine, a rapid and irreversible cataclysm produces a trauma that has the power to transform what is "politically impossible" into something "politically inevitable," paving the way for forms of capitalism capable of asserting themselves stubbornly and violently. By describing the long trajectory of petro-chemical industrialization in the area locally known as the "triangle of death" in south-eastern Sicily, this paper discusses how the widespread, long-term and nearly invisible nature of everyday forms of disaster generates equally radical effects, effects which at times are even more insidious than the disaster itself. Like the fumes rising from an industrial smokestack, these effects insinuate themselves into the imaginaries and epidermis of the people for whom oil represents both a blessing and a curse.

Disaster, risk, and the thresholds of property in Mongolian pastoralism

Author: Daniel Murphy (University of Cincinnati)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to understand shifting ideas about property in Mongolia by situating them within contemporary disasters and, particularly, the impact of neoliberal reform on the experience of risk. These dynamics, I argue, harbor the potential for transformative change to a post-pastoral Mongolia.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to understand shifting ideas about property in Mongolia by situating them within contemporary manifestations of dzud - a widespread, winter disaster in which livestock en masse. Through an exploration of a shift from the sudden embrace of land privatization in 2008 to its total rejection in 2014 in a small herding community in eastern Mongolia, I trace the insidious ways neoliberal reforms have fragmented community bonds and alienated households from one another resulting in the atomization of household exposure to risk and the proliferation of an exclusionary property politics. Additionally, through ethnographic explorations of household mobility and property-making, I demonstrate how the visceral experience of confronting dzud shapes the perception of risk and the ways in which herders conceptualize the relationship between risk and property. Following work on the "emotional ecology of risk" and the affective commons, I describe how the rejection of privatization in 2014 does not represent a resurgence of commons logics but rather a symptom of shortened temporal horizons for perceiving risk and limited capacity for social memory, key components of common property logics. These dynamics are significant in that, coupled with the explosion of post-disaster calls for land privatization following each successive dzud event and the increasing marginalization of pastoral identities and lifeways in the broader society, they carry the potential for transformative change. In this sense, dzud amplifies and accelerates a trajectory of unraveling, dispossession, and destruction in which urban political and economic forces seek to shape a new, post-pastoral Mongolia.

Images of a contested space: the case of the 2009 L'aquila earthquake and its aftermath

Author: Raffaele Gallo (Freie Universität Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how in the aftermath of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, images have been used to re-appropriate the space that was first destroyed by the earthquake and further wounded by the political management of the event.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how images have been used by the local community to re-appropriate the space destroyed by the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake and further wounded by the political management that made the event a 'long lasting emergency'. The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, its aftermath and the reconstruction process have been topics of discussions about the relations between the governmental institutions and the citizenship, the politics of 'emergency' and its management, as well as the forms of aid and their reception by the local population. In L'Aquila, the conflicting moral economies that confronted each other in the actions over a collective space achieved dramatic tones. Several actors and groups, at different levels and with divergent agendas, have contested the territory and its space. The government interventions after the catastrophe have generated a process of re-configuration of the territory that severely affected the citizens and the city's social and cultural life. The consequences of this process, set up during the 'emergency' and then pursued long after this period, highlight how interventions in the forms of neoliberal policies created a 'disaster after the disaster', effectively degrading the quality of life of the local population. Building on a corpus of images about the earthquake and the post-catastrophe context, this paper discusses how these visual representations, both at the community and national levels, gained political functions in the process of re-elaboration of the disaster and its consequences.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.