Chapter 21: Disaster, degradation, dystopia
In this chapter we examine the contributions that the field of political ecology––with its focus on the mutually constitutive relationships between environments, cultures, politics and power––has made, and can continue to make, to a more nuanced understanding of disasters. Disaster research also contributes to political ecology insofar as it illuminates the complexity of relationships between environments and societies over space and time. Drawing from ethnographic examples and historical analysis, we situate epistemologies of disasters within broader analyses of scale-making, nature–culture dichotomies, the classification of disasters as ‘natural’ or ‘social’, the interpretive dimensions of identity and the construction of self. The very definition of a situation as ‘disastrous’ or not varies with one’s political resources. Overall, we argue that political ecology frameworks pose new questions about the operation of power and politics in contexts of disasters, resulting in enriched understandings of the social experience of disasters. Ethnographic examples, such as those presented in this chapter, illustrate the rich promise of continued work at the confluence of the fields of political ecology and disaster studies.
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