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re-imagining catastrophe

This blog is a space for creative and reflective writing by faculty and students, that foregrounds the complexities under-girding and giving shape to our present historical predicament. Caught in the vortex of the Covid-19 pandemic, racism, capitalism, economic inequality, nationalism, neo-fascism, war, and climate change, people across the world are faced with unprecedented levels of uncertainty and social, economic and political upheaval.

Can the term ‘disaster’ provide direction to critical inquiries into the problem of social injustice? What does it mean to consider the Covid-19 pandemic as a disaster, cognizant of the fact that it today mercilessly stakes its own spatio-temporality, undeterred by our expectations that it behave like a temporally book-ended and spatially constrained disaster?

What of racism, of the sort that was visited upon the person of George Floyd in Minneapolis, or countless other Black women, men, and children murdered by the police over the last few years alone? Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, here human agency, intent and motive are inescapable facts, but so too is the historically rooted structural coherence between state and social orders, which sustains anti-Black tyranny inasmuch as it protects white privilege and private property. White supremacist ideology, despite its historical and geographical particularities, is also pandemic-like: it knows no geographical boundaries, and its historical roots are depressingly deep, holding together the subsoil of modernity itself, nurtured by slavery, colonialism, and capitalism.

How might we productively think about social injustice through the frame of disasters? Can we continue compartmentalizing catastrophes depending on their natural or anthropogenic provenance? When the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Black police and carcereal violence, catastrophic levels of unemployment, and a host of disasters conditioned by rampant structural racism shape the cruel horizon of possibility for millions of Black people in America? Does imagining people as vulnerable prevent us from bearing witness to their oppression? Can our scholarly pre-occupation with resilience blind us to the challenge and necessity of resistance?

This blog is a modest attempt to open up conversations on what *is* as well as what *ought to be* from a critical disaster studies perspective, attempting to necessarily blur conventional lines drawn between disaster vulnerability and social injustice, resilience and resistance, critique and practice. It, like its subject matter, is a work in process, and hopefully, progress.

Send in your submissions (short essays, thought-pieces, reflections, or poems) to Raja Swamy at rswamy1@utk.edu

  • re-imagining catastrophe
  • Thinking complexity
    When a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or flood destroys a socially constructed world, we tend to think of effects in terms of how physically destructive forces bring life to a standstill. Normal is suspended, and much […]