A capacious historicism of NFIP risk modeling: Exploring themes of monism to negotiate dualistic critical perspectives of hazard 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, Marx, Foucault, commodity fetishism
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


Reinsurers, municipalities, and recently the National Flood Insurance Program increasingly turn to capital market mechanisms to cover severe losses from flood events. The catastrophe bond is such a tool; an outcome of modeling epistemology and the legacy of 1980s market-environmentalism. A handful of reputable risk modeling firms compete for the clientship of large reinsurers, revealing a profitable demand for customized risk management products. Although the methods of finance and modeling practitioners are perceived as convoluted or inaccessible, this is strategically illusory. Yet, geographers often reproduce this illusion and preclude meaningful investigation of those worlds. Inspired by Kordela's (2017) analysis of Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s realabstraktion, this paper describes catastrophe bond production as an "epistemontology", wherein otherwise disparate hazards are consciously rendered commensurate by modeling practitioners and insurers for the purpose of securitization. Subsequently, the disasters and models themselves become fetishized unconsciously. Such conversion-through-commensuration is necessary for physical science knowledge to be useful for insurers and finance practitioners. Moreover, the critical literature pertaining to catastrophe risk geographies exhibits a duality as historical material or assemblage-oriented methodological perspectives. Independently, neither appropriately characterizes the complex historical lineage of catastrophe management. An opportunity exists for geographers to apply monist frameworks that contextualize micro-processual relations among topologically situated actors within a broader political economy. Proponents of new materialism and subsequently critical physical geography have initiated this conversation. With modeling in focus, I demonstrate a "capacious" historical materialist analysis of U.S flood modeling for the NFIP, from program inception through its August 2018 FloodSmart Re catastrophe bond offering.

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