Catastrophe

Catastrophe: Law, Politics, and the Humanitarian Impulse

AUSTIN SARAT
JAVIER LEZAUN
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk7b4
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  • Book Info
    Catastrophe
    Book Description:

    From 9/11 to Katrina, from Darfur to the Minnesota bridge collapse, ours is an “age of catastrophe.” In this era, catastrophic events seem to have a revelatory quality: they offer powerful reminders of the fragility of our social and institutional architectures, making painfully evident vulnerabilities in our social organization that were otherwise invisible. By disrupting the operation of fundamental mechanisms and infrastructures of the social order, they lay bare the conditions that make our sense of normalcy possible. At a time when societies are directing an unprecedented level of resources and ingenuity to anticipating and mitigating catastrophic events, Catastrophe: Law, Politics, and the Humanitarian Impulse examines the tests that catastrophe poses to politics and humanitarianism as well as to the law. It explores legal, political, and humanitarian responses during times when the sudden, discontinuous, and disastrous event has become, perhaps paradoxically, a structural component of our political imagination. It asks whether law, politics, and humanitarianism live up to the tests posed by disaster, and the role all of them play in creating a more resilient world. Taken together the essays in this book ask us to see through and beyond the myths that surround catastrophe and our responses to it. They ask us to rethink our understanding of catastrophe and to imagine new legal, political, and humanitarian responses. In addition to the editors, contributors include Thomas Birkland, Michele Landis Dauber, Kim Fortun, Edward Rackley, Peter Redfield, Peter H. Schuck, and Susan Sterett.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-159-5
    Subjects: Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Challenge of Crisis and Catastrophe in Law and Politics
    (pp. 1-18)
    Austin Sarat and Javier Lezaun

    From the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina, from the Darfur tragedy to the Minnesota bridge collapse, ours is an “age of catastrophe.” In this era, catastrophic events seem to have a revelatory quality: they offer powerful reminders of the fragility of our social and institutional architectures, making painfully evident vulnerabilities in our social organization that were otherwise invisible. By disrupting the operation of fundamental mechanisms and infrastructures of our social order, they lay bare the conditions that make our sense of normalcy possible.

    A catastrophe is thus a moment of manifestation, an opportunity to take in and...

  5. 1 Crisis and Catastrophe in Science, Law, and Politics: Mapping the Terrain
    (pp. 19-59)
    Peter H. Schuck

    Crisis and catastrophe loom dauntingly, even impossibly, large in science and law. (I use the plural because crisis and catastrophe are quite distinct phenomena, despite their potential overlap.) They are also words that we moderns use so casually and promiscuously that their meanings have lost whatever precision they may have once possessed, and have acquired that familiar fuzziness that marks so much of our popular discourse. Their capaciousness and imprecision, of course, furnish all the more reason—and enticement—for scholars to take them on and try to wring from them some drops of intelligibility, clarification, and perhaps even guidance...

  6. 2 The Real Third Rail of American Politics
    (pp. 60-82)
    Michele Landis Dauber

    In 1962, Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, recalled the “Roots of Social Security” for an audience of Social Security Administration staff members. The Committee on Economic Security, which had broad agreement on most issues involved in drafting the Social Security Act, “broke out into a row because the legal problems were so terrible.” According to Perkins, the legal committee had deadlocked in the summer of 1934 over the crucial question of the constitutional basis for federal authority over unemployment and old age insurance. Then, as Perkins told the crowd, she paid a social call on Supreme Court Justice...

  7. 3 New Orleans Everywhere: Bureaucratic Accountability and Housing Policy after Katrina
    (pp. 83-115)
    Susan M. Sterett

    Housing assistance for those displaced from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina began immediately after the hurricane and continued for those who have qualified through March 2009, although the numbers have decreased over the years. Some lost assistance because they had found jobs and housing where they had moved. Others moved back to New Orleans. Still others lost assistance for reasons they could not understand or because they could not document where they had been living.

    Extended housing assistance presents a puzzle in the U.S. social welfare state. Why offer extended assistance to displaced people, many poor and imagined to be...

  8. 4 Emergency Management and the Courts in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
    (pp. 116-145)
    Thomas A. Birkland

    This essay describes emergency management issues facing the courts, with a particular emphasis on the generally poor response to Hurricane Katrina by the courts in New Orleans (Orleans Parish), Louisiana. A broader purpose is to examine this failure through the lens provided by more than fifty years of research on human behavior in natural disasters. Particularly since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and continuing to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a considerable body of literature on disasters has been developed and published by nonexperts. Much of their findings and advice are naïve, ungrounded in theory or evidence beyond one...

  9. 5 Environmental Right-to-Know and the Transmutations of Law
    (pp. 146-171)
    Kim Fortun

    Law does more than codify, regulate, and control; it also catalyzes and transmutes, provoking cascading social and cultural effects, particularly when the force of law is informational.¹ Consider the case of Diane Wilson, mother of five, fourth-generation shrimp boat captain in Calhoun County on the Texas Gulf Coast. In 1989, she was forty years old, had more than enough to do, and had more than enough to worry about. Shrimping had never been an easy way to make a living, but it was getting harder. The catch was down and game warden surveillance was up, and there was a brown...

  10. 6 Reintegration, or the Explosive Remnants of War
    (pp. 172-192)
    Peter Redfield and Edward B. Rackley

    The categories used to situate and analyze humanitarian issues in policy are far cleaner than most events on the ground. Perhaps nowhere does this truism grow clearer than at the end of emergencies, when exceptional suffering fades into normal misery. Whereas crises and catastrophes suggest the decisive lucidity associated with urgent need (however superficially or inappropriately applied), their aftermath remains deeply ambiguous and rarely featured in media reports. The “postemergency phase” identified by policy documents substitutes bland generalization for the patchwork of local and international uncertainties that accompany the end of crises, particularly conflicts that enter what anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 193-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-202)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)