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THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF NATURAL DISASTERS

World Tensions/Tensôes Mundiais/Tensiones Mundiales Journal

CALL FOR PAPERS: The Political Economy of Natural Disasters

The history of our planet has been punctuated by disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and nuclear incidents. Corporate media deal with these phenomena through sensationalism, attributing to nature the tragic consequences of what is often the result of human action: the villain is nature. Such a perspective avoids consideration of capitalist development in shaping natural disasters. The takeover of ancestral lands and displacement/removal of indigenous peoples to make way for hydroelectric plants in the Americas or Africa rarely gain the  attention and scrutiny of global news outlets.

This recent “decade of disaster” has given rise to a new scholarly literature on the effects of environmental crisis and catastrophe; how they are represented through the global media, neoliberal political and economic structures; and a growing consensus on the reality of climate change. In other words, these events bring into sharp relief the relationships between economic and ecological crisis, social and environmental injustice, and questions of how we are to live amidst uncertainty and ecological change.

Understanding the political economy of natural disasters draws attention to two pressing realities. The first is the need to resituate environmental “disaster” not as a series of external events or “shocks” as Naomi Klein (2007) calls them, but as part of a continuous and ongoing crisis. This idea is informed by Klein’s notion of disaster capitalism: a predatory scheme that “uses the destruction and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering.” The broad insight from Klein’s “shock doctrine” is that natural disasters can be mobilised to generate “superprofits” that perpetuate ongoing displacement and situated vulnerabilities for communities that are in harm’s way. The second reality is the need to think critically about what is “natural” about natural disasters. Historical materialist perspectives emphasise historically entrenched social and economic vulnerabilities that are often hidden in the spectacle of extreme “acts of nature” (Davis 1999). The political economy of natural disasters focuses on the relationship between uneven development and social disinvestment, neoliberal economic policies, environmental pollution and destruction, how these amplify social and ecological crises in particular places and how they impact upon livelihoods, ways of life and the biosphere.

In this issue of TM, we wish to examine the relationship nature-society, establishing the close ties between these “natural disasters” and the multifaceted processes of the construction of nationalities. Nations are consolidated through struggle and occupation of territory. In this sense, clinging to the “homeland” is one of the formative elements of national sentiment, cultivated in the hymns that exalt natural wealth, the beauty of the country, or the greatness of the territory, however small and devoid of resources it may be. The construction of nationalities is therefore often predicated on colonial and capitalist understandings of nature that view it as an economic (or aesthetic) resource.  The political economy of natural disasters lies at the heart of conflicts over resources within nation states and within the increasingly problematic terrain of environmental crises that transcend national borders. We aim to open up the discourse of disaster to critical analysis and debate.

Therefore we seek theoretically informed and historically situated papers that explore the practices of power and resistance that emerge out of (and against) the contingencies associated with “natural” disasters. We welcome contributions that approach the topics from a variety of disciplines. Areas of interest may include:

  • The political economy of disaster capitalism
  • The neoliberalisation of nature: resource conflicts, mining
  • Indigenous knowledge and land rights
  • Indigenous resistance to capitalist expansion
  • Urban planning and demography under capitalism and natural disasters
  • What is natural about natural disasters?
  • Environmental and climate justice in cities and regions
  • Political economy, natural disasters and the media
  • Environmental crisis, risk and vulnerability
  • Living in the aftermath of environmental disasters
  • Continuous crisis: rethinking the discourses and politics of environmental disaster
  • Political ecologies of disaster: poverty, environmental transformation and uneven development
  • Alternative knowledges and practices: resisting the contingencies of disaster capitalism
  • Legislation, international agreements and environmental policies

Articles and book reviews can be submitted using the guidelines available at http://www.tensoesmundiais.net/index.php/tm

For a PDF copy of the CFP, or further information, please contact one of the issue editors in the language indicated:

Taeli Gómez taelig@yahoo.es (for Spanish)

Sandy Grande smgra@conncoll.edu (for English)

Francisco Amaro Gomes famaro@ufc.br (for Portuguese)

Para la convocatoria en castellano, favor comunicarse con Taeli Gómez taelig@yahoo.es 

 

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

 

Japan Crisis

THE JAPAN SOCIETY OF POLITICAL ECONOMY – 59th ANNUAL CONFERENCE

The Japan Society of Political Economy (JSPE)

Declaration on the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Accident

The JSPE expresses its deep condolences to the victims of the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake and the giant tsunami it triggered. We sympathize with those in the disaster area who are still in distress and appreciate the efforts of those engaged in the disaster response, relief, and recovery in that area. Further, we express our deep concern over the ongoing accident at the First Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, its spreading radioactive contamination, and the flaws in the present system of nuclear power plants that the accident has revealed.

The JSPE decided to devote a special plenary session to the problems raised by this disaster on the second morning of the 59th JSPE Annual Conference, which is to be held on September 17 and 18 at the Ikebukuro campus of the Rikkyo University, Tokyo (for details http://www.jspe.gr.jp/drupal/en_cfp2011). Yasuo Goto (Fukushima Univ.), Koji Morioka (Kansai Univ.), and Kiichiro Yagi (Setsunan Univ.) were nominated as its organizers. In the proposed plenary session we plan to discuss the problems jointly based on all the comments and proposals that are directed to the organizers of this session. We hope that this discussion will be a step toward the realization of a new concept in the activities of JSPE. We therefore welcome all opinions presented in the spirit of social science, from members as well as non-members, for this special plenary session. Please send your opinion within 200 to 400 words to the JSPE (Jspecice@jspe.gr.jp) by 10 June.

Even though the scale of the earthquake was well beyond anything anticipated, we as social scientists cannot set our judgment aside by saying that this was an “unprecedented natural disaster.” Concerning the temblor alone, a series of questions promptly emerges: Was sufficient forecasting, warning and prevention provided? Wasn’t a more effective relief system that would have avoided the loss of information at the early stage possible? What was the reason for the vulnerability of the lifeline revealed by this disaster? Has an appropriate system of aid and recovery been established? What form should the economic support for relief, maintenance and recovery take? As for the accident at the nuclear power plant in particular, we cannot avoid asking whether the system and policies that have promoted the use of nuclear energy thus far lie behind the occurrence of the disaster and the apparent delay and helplessness in efforts to deal with it. Nuclear energy policy in Japan has been promoted by a closed circle of the government and the so-called “atomic lobby” of politicians, agents of the atomic energy industry including certain scientists and journalists. Along with the measures taken for disaster prevention and response, the system of policy formation as well should be placed under comprehensive and critical examination. Further, we need plans for the maintenance of industry and daily life under the current condition of electric power shortage, for recovery and its concomitant economic burdens, as well as the future renovation of our industrial economy and finances.

As the Japanese term for economy, or keizai, was derived from a classic term for “managing society and salvaging the life of the people” (keisei saimin), political economy as a discipline is concerned with relieving society and the lives of each of its members from distress and restoring their stability. Political economy as a social science emerged when this task shifted from being one of the arts of rule to a constituent of the self-knowledge of civil society. We believe that all of the researchers who together make up the JSPE are in accord in seeking to deal with this disaster from the viewpoint of social scientists, and to consider the problems associated with this disaster as significant challenges for the development of the theory of political economy.

Executive Board of the Japan Society of Political Economy
April 16, 2011

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