Research Example 2

Gould, Kevin & Magdalena Garcia, M & A.C. Remes, Jacob. (2016). Beyond “natural-disasters-are-not-natural”: The work of state and nature after the 2010 earthquake in Chile. Journal of Political Ecology. 23. 93-114.

This article deconstructs the idea of a ‘natural disaster’, reframing natural disasters as only part natural and the remainder as a political play. The authors Gould, Garcia, and Remes focus their research on the natural, socioeconomic, and political impacts of the earthquake that hit Chile in 2010 under the Bachelet administration. They reframe natural disasters as something to be managed and place the State as the manager, embodying what they call the Managerial State and Manageable Nature. They state, “The critical disaster scholars were not denying the existence of natural hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but they argued that it was the social, political and economic relations that made people vulnerable to such events.” (95). The researchers also look at historical systems of oppression, including permitted force and violence against civilians who were stripped of rights in “states of catastrophe” as done under the dictatorship of Pinochet. While they state that such extreme uses of militarized force and rule have not been used since Pinochet, similar tactics of authoritative—and often violent—force are used against indigenous Mapuche communities, especially in the chaos that the earthquake and tsunami brought. Much like the disproportionate force used against indigenous communities created a militarized, violent atmosphere, the role of the media aided in framing specific narratives to elicit sympathy and patriotism from Chileans, pitting them against communities that were shown to be “disrupting”, rather than seeing them as people in need. Beyond that, they look at economic data and funding proposals in response to the earthquake, namely the ways in which economic systems are often laid out in times of natural disaster to best benefit economic institutions. They assert, “In this scenario, companies and markets are ideally positioned to respond to disaster, because according to natural laws of the market, when companies respond to disaster, they build the economy rather than contributing to inflation.” (106) While such a statement could be seen positively as working to stabilize the economy, further policy details expose the exploitation that underlays such political and economic tactics. The researchers call this strategy a ‘neoliberal approach’ that enables the growing term ‘disaster capitalism’. They declare that such approaches “permitted private firms to accumulate profits by reconstructing houses with shoddy materials and locating replacement housing on low-value land.” (107). Indigenous and lower-income communities were systematically pushed out of areas that did have higher land values in areas that were central to larger centers and cities in order for them to be reclaimed and reconstructed by companies that saw their displacement as opportunities to develop real estate and tourist facilities. While this research is very helpful in confirming exploitative actions by governments and companies in the wake of natural disasters, and further demonstrates their priorities of land development over fellow citizens, it did not provide the amount of raw data that I had been hoping to find. Nevertheless, the impact and actions taken by both governments and corporations seem to align seamlessly with other instances of natural disaster and development that I have found prior, setting what seems to be an unfortunate baseline of naturalized exploitative action.



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