One year after Hurricane Katrina, geographer Neil Smith wrote “there’s no such thing as a natural disaster”, arguing that disasters, regardless of their environmental origins and impact, are socially produced phenomena. Such causes, from fundamentally changing the topography of the region to the organized abandonment of low income neighborhoods, became evidently clear in the days following the storm.
To say something is natural, an ‘act of nature’, or the ‘will of God’, erases this social history, and in so doing removes culpability from those who cause disasters while shifting the risk and responsibility of the aftermath onto communities who are impacted the most. What lessons do we learn when we decouple ‘natural’ from ‘disaster’? How does this project, both geographic and historical, help us recognize patterns in the ways that disasters form over time?
Using examples from Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, this Olio will unpack several antagonistic social relationships: capital vs. climate, the State vs. citizens, and capital vs. citizens, that not only create the conditions for ‘natural’ disasters, but extend far beyond the single event. We will discuss how disasters, while decades in the making, do not have to be inevitable.