The standard research approach to disasters is not directly relevant to pandemics and many of the future disasters we face

It is questionable that the notion of the naturally well, (auto)regulating disaster subject applies to the Covid-19 pandemic. What is more: This notion contributed to the hegemonic formation of the resilience paradigm, which has served beyond the disaster research field as a legitimation of neoliberalism’s reduction of governmental support and the imposition of self-reliance. The radicalization of the racial capitalist, “economization of life”8 that neoliberal programs have fostered across the globe has been directly responsible for the immense death toll of Covid-19 and it serves as both a structural and a cultural obstacle to the type of (global) solidarity that is indispensable for dealing with this pandemic. The privatization of public health and the dismantling of social safety nets left public institutions unable to cope with the virus and forced people to expose themselves to it as they had to keep working in order not to go hungry. Moreover, in many countries, the ideology informing the management of the pandemic was one that prioritized saving “the economy” over saving the lives of those perceived as disposable (for not being beneficial to said “economy”).

In the past few years, the resilience paradigm has been increasingly challenged in disaster studies—though its use continues to be popular. But another framework for interpreting disaster that was promoted by Cold War disaster research seems to be largely uncontroversial: The characterization of disaster as revelation. The idea that a disaster would reveal hidden truths about humans and how they live in the present can be traced back to premodern times. During the twentieth century, it became pivotal for ascribing disaster predictive faculties with respect to the future.9 Cold War disaster researchers contributed to backing up the idea of the revealing nature of disaster scientifically. Borrowing from the language of the natural sciences and thus increasing the scientificity of their claims—they described it as an “equivalent of an engineering experiment,” or a real-world “laboratory” in which the underlying structures and “patterns” of societies would become observable.

Disaster Studies as Politics with Other Means: Covid-19 and the Legacies of Cold War Disaster Research - items

Ben Harris-Roxas @ben_hr