Disaster publics: perceptions of citizenship in the wake of floods in Central Europe
(University of Copenhagen)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores how the floods in Central Europe in June 2013 have shaped public perceptions of citizenship, by focusing on publics as emergent collectives. The paper also discusses the idea of social change in the wake of disasters, and the ethnographic challenges that follow from this.
Paper long abstract:
The massive river floods in June 2013 wreaked havoc in many parts of Central Europe. The damages are estimated at EUR 17 billion, making the floods one of the costliest disaster events in European history. This paper explores how events such as this, shape public perceptions of what it means to be a citizen during and following emergency situations, in towns along the Elbe river in Germany. By turning attention to perceptions of citizenship, the challenge is to understand how one can study floods as political events, that in turn create epiphenomena such as insurance controversies and public protests against dikes. Theoretically, I draw on John Dewey's notion of a public. In Dewey's understanding, a public is not simply a collection of individuals already assembled as a stable category. Rather, publics emerge in relation to particular collective matters of concern, which in turn are triggered by specific events or processes. At the ethnographic level, one of the challenges this paper deals with is to ask what we mean by social and political change in the wake of disasters, and more importantly, how we are able to investigate this? I argue that the flood events in Central Europe is a site of inquiry to investigate the various notions tied to the political idea of citizenship, such as rights, obligations, insurance and responsibilities, but that there are methodological challenges of temporality and scale that need to be addressed.
Living with disasters: hazards, continuity and change