De-Naturalising Disasters

Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster
32-38 Wells Street, London, W1T 3UW (5 minutes walk from Oxford Circus tube station) 
4-8pm, Friday 18 September 2015
Convenors: David Chandler and Camilla Royle

Bruno Latour argues that we should love our 'monsters'. Nothing illustrates this demand better than how disasters are becoming increasingly central to the political imagination. From the late Ulrich Beck's views of 'emancipatory catastrophism' to the UN Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, disasters are becoming a subject of ethical care. Disasters are no longer excluded from politics and seen as external or natural events but are instead seen as enabling agents of political change. The United Nations, for example, is forwarding a new paradigm suggesting that disaster risk should be embedded within everyday governance and development processes and managed through taking responsibility for social and environmental outcomes. In this way, disasters - as outcomes of social processes - enable learning, reflection and potentially emancipatory outcomes. This workshop seeks to discuss how disasters have overcome the nature/culture divide and what is at stake in learning how to love them.

4.00-5.30: Grand Strategies for Anthropocene Challenges: Can we Learn in Time?
Jamie MacIntosh (Professorial Venture Research Fellow & Director of the Institute for Security & Resilience Studies, University College, London)

The UK’s recently elected government has now revved up the Whitehall policy machine to distil the 2015 batch of strategies. Ministerial speeches and fanfares are not far off. The UK Government is one among many major and minor bodies that drafts strategies. There were 51 state signatories to the UN Charter in 1945; there are now 193 sovereign bodies. The financial power of several non-state bodies far exceeds that of many UN Leviathans. Nevertheless, after the post-Cold War unipolar moment and Washington Consensus, we are all – for better or worse – immersed in a multipolar world. Moreover, it’s a multipolar world that within a few years and decades will have to face up to the challenges of the Anthropocene with our productivity still flat and inequality growing. There is little evidence that we are developing healthy appetites for the systemic risks and radical uncertainties that abound. Whether you look to elites or the multitudes, the competencies, capabilities and capacity necessary for the species to make it to the 22nd Century cannot be taken for granted. Can we learn in time how to make grand strategies work or are they myths to numb the hapless? Do universities have anything pragmatic to offer?

5.30-6.00: Break

6.00-7.30: Can Disaster Risk Management be Emancipatory?
Mark Pelling (Professor of Geography, Centre for Integrated Research on Risk and Resilience, King's College, London)

Disaster risk management science has a long critical tradition including work by Hewitt, Wisner and Watts. The advent of climate change adaptation has opened new policy relevance for disaster risk management, but without taking on board this critical viewpoint. The result has been an adaptation science framed around stability seeking. Resilience has come to symbolise this conservative vision for risk management. One response has been to call for Transformative Adaptation. The paper will examine the advent and rise of transformation and its current positioning in the emerging post-2015 development agenda. 

7.30: Wine reception

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