Critical physical geography as monism: The NFIP as a case study for merging realist and idealist perspectives of catastrophe risk finance

Authors: Troy Brundidge*, Northeastern Illinois University
Topics: Economic Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Physical Geography
Keywords: critical physical geography, critical political economy, finance, catastrophe bond, NFIP, hazard geography, flood risk governance,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Insurance companies, municipalities, and recently the National Flood Insurance Program increasingly turn to private finance mechanisms to cover severe losses to flood events. The catastrophe bond is one such tool; an outcome of modelling epistemology and market environmentalism. A handful of reputable modelling firms compete for the clientship of large reinsurers, revealing a profitable demand for customized risk management products. Although the methods of finance and modelling practitioners are perceived as convoluted or inaccessible, this is strategically illusory. Yet, geographers often reproduce this illusion and preclude meaningful investigation of those worlds. Applying Kordela's (2017) analysis of Sohn-Rothel, this paper describes catastrophe risk management as an "epistemontology", wherein otherwise disparate hazards are consciously rendered commensurate by modelling practitioners and insurers for the purpose of securitization. At the point of exchange, the model as a fetishized commodity entails an unconscious complicity in an accumulative free-market environmentalist logic. Moreover, the critical literature pertaining to catastrophe risk geographies exhibits a duality between assemblage and political economy-oriented frameworks, operationalized using social constructivist and historical materialist methodologies, respectively. Independently, neither appropriately characterizes the culture or lineage of catastrophe management. Thus, an opportunity exists for geographers to apply monist frameworks that contextualize micro-processual relations amongst human and non-human actors within a broader political economy. Proponents of new materialism and subsequently critical physical geography (CPG) have initiated this conversation. With modelling in focus, this paper proposes an actor-oriented, non-linear historical materialist analysis of the NFIP's "contingent history", from inception through its August 2018 FloodSmart Re catastrophe bond offering.

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