Catastrophic Urbanism: report


I haven’t been able to blog for a while consistently with marking, recruitment cycles, and several big deadlines in a row – more on those later – starting a new grant with colleagues, PhD recruitment, MSc developments, and lots of other things going on since I got back from a bit of a conference/fieldwork/road trip in California between the ISA in San Francisco and the AAG in Los Angeles and a short workshop at Berkeley. But I wanted to pick things back up with a short post from a fantastic workshop I attended yesterday hosted by Austin Zeiderman at LSE cities on Catastrophic Urbanism, supported by Sobia Kaker and Astrid Wood.

It was one of the most compelling and thought provoking events I’ve been to all year. I kicked things off with some conceptual discussion I’ve been working through on evacuation in relation to mobility, emergency politics and aesthetics, which received some superb commentary and questions that have already really helped shaped some ideas, and new concerns within the project that I need to work on. Next was Joe Deville on the materialisation and illocution of risk management in Switzerland’s civil ‘national redoubt’ shelter system and Claudia Aradau’s reworking of the materialisation of security in relation to critical infrastructure protection, with some fascinating comments on security’s systems of production. The papers fit together really well.

In the following sessions, Monika Buscher gave an incredible presentation working through the Anders Breivik shootings in Norway – as it happened – to explore the work she is doing in experimenting on the technologies used to ensure communication between emergency response systems (Monika and I edit a book series together on Changing Mobilities which i’ll pick back up again soon as we’ve just commissioned some new books). Kevin Grove followed up on his rich and recently published work on resilience and disaster management in Jamaica to explore the differential forms of adaptation to disasters and climatic change contrasting ODPEM’s disaster preparedness and mitigation programmes and the local hierarchical response of informal proto-authority in a ‘don’ governed garrison neighbourhood. Finally Ben Anderson bookended the day with a stunning unpacking of the delay in emergency response as a particular diagramming of power, beginning with the events in Woolwich from last week. He drew on the multiple forms of response through which the delay comes to be made present, often as an affective urgency to grasp particular events in certain ways.

Several themes cross-cut all of the papers. These included the particular kinds of publics being imagined in such apparatus of emergency and their passivity or activity; the sorts of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ politics made possible within them; the fragility, escape and remainders of power and the excess of materials and objects.

Lots and lots to think about!



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