The University of Arizona

Beyond "natural-disasters-are-not-natural": the work of state and nature after the 2010 earthquake in Chile

Kevin A. Gould, M. Magdalena Garcia, Jacob A.C. Remes

Abstract


Since the 1970s, human ecologists, geographers, Marxian political economists and others have insisted that there is no such thing as a 'natural' disaster. This assertion opened a space not only for exploring socioeconomic conditions that render marginalized populations vulnerable to natural hazards, but also for the formation of a field, the political ecology of hazards. A few political ecologists further interrogated the idea of a natural disaster, asking how different notions of 'the natural' circulate in post-disaster politics and with what effects. This article extends the latter approach by documenting how interconnected categories of 'nature' and 'state' were mutually constituted by narratives of politicians and elites after Chile's 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Drawing on media reports, we identify three distinct pairings of state/nature: (1) nature as manageable and the state as manager; (2) nature as out of control and the state as a police state; and (3) nature as financial opportunity and the state as prudential. Influenced by socioeconomic and historical factors, these state/nature pairings contradicted and reinforced one another in the disaster's aftermath and were deployed to reinforce top-down—rather than democratic—strategies of post-disaster reconstruction. This case offers an unusual approach to disaster politics by tracing how entwined and power-laden categories of state and nature condition the governance of disaster reconstruction processes.


Key words: disaster, state, nature, socionature, political ecology of hazards, media disaster, earthquake, Latin America, Chile, 27F


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v23i1.20181