Disasters and the Return of the Same: Insurers as Counter-Revolutionary Force

Authors: Robby Hardesty*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Economic Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: disasters, catastrophes, financialization, finance, social theory, critical, insurance, hurricane, earthquake, political economy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper we examine the ways in which natural catastrophes are enrolled into the reproduction of a capitalist ordering of the world. At its core the paper is about the tension between novelty and the return of the same. As depicted in Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04, the imminent arrival of the disaster interrupts the mundane routines of the everyday, potentially dissolving social partitions and allowing for the construction of new communities of care.  A looming hurricane provides a glimpse of how the world might be organized otherwise: we might even hope that the disaster can be a “technology for defeating time” (18), like a snow day that frees a child from their routine.  But the disaster -- the new -- is also constantly enrolled in political economy, and used to reproduce and re-trench the old. In this paper, we trace the ways in which routines are carried through the disaster, and how in newly-leveled landscapes, the re-carving of old paths perpetuates traditional patterns and practices. The analysis devotes attention to global reinsurers.  As the final backstop against (insured) losses, reinsurers are pivotal actors in the preservation of value.  Reinsurers selectively offer fresh starts for willing consumers and, as such, are among the most counter-revolutionary forces of the contemporary age.

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