Finance and Environmental Crises: Disaster Capitalism beyond the Shock Doctrine

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Economic Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Organizers: Jenny Goldstein, Sarah Knuth, Shaina Potts
Chairs: Jenny Goldstein


Twenty years following the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis and a decade after the 2008 subprime mortgage-led crisis, what have we learned about the ways in which financial failures-cum-opportunities such as currency devaluations or debt crises intersect with environmental crises and/or less spectacular ecological transformations? In the decade since publication, Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” thesis in The Shock Doctrine (2007) has become a widely-referenced and useful starting point for understanding how capital catalyzes “disasters”, usually—if not necessarily—localized and short-term, and then uses such events to further entrench and expand neoliberal policies. We seek papers that consider the ongoing salience of and/or go beyond the disaster capitalism model for understanding the iterative relationship between financial practices and environmental crises, in and beyond moments of acute financial turbulence (Christophers 2017, Ekers and Prudham 2015, Peet 2011). Environmental degradation and devaluation today, for instance, are not simply occasions for the spread of standard neoliberal policies to new spaces: they are equally significant as moments for the invention of novel financial practices and new forms of value creation or extraction (Knuth, Potts, and Goldstein forthcoming). Many questions about the relationship between finance, economic crises, and environmental crises remain (Bigger and Dempsey 2018, Ouma et al. 2018). Participants might consider—but are not limited to—topics including:

• The role(s) of the financial sector in causing, shaping and/or taking advantage of environmental crises. What are the explanatory pitfalls/advantages of problematizing finance, versus taking on specific financial industry players (e.g., pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, private equity, financialized insurance companies) and their geographies?
• The temporal and spatial scales at which we consider such questions: what have we learned about how acute financial crises are displaced into environmental crises, and what important questions remain?
• Alternately/additionally, how might further considering the neoliberal era’s longer-running crisis of overaccumulation, and return of a state of generalized financial volatility, deepen our analysis of the finance-environment nexus?
• Relatedly, most applications and/or elaborations of the disaster capitalism thesis have explored relatively acute and localized crises, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, war/terrorist attacks, or toxic exposures (albeit with increasingly sophisticated understandings of how longer-term processes/politics such as austerity structure and are reified in such events, e.g. Fox Gotham and Greenberg 2014). Recently, some scholars have used the framework to consider more long-term, systemic destabilizations, notably climate change and its effects (Johnson 2017, Fletcher 2012). How is/isn’t disaster capitalism useful in interrogating such posited states of generalized “Anthropocene” volatility?
• Racialized finance capitalism and environmental disaster (Pulido 2016, Ranganathan 2016): what have we learned about how financial players exploit and deepen racial capitalism’s ‘everyday’ disasters and states of precarity, in and out of more visible and acute events? What must we still ask, and how might we respond?
• Disaster capitalism’s entangled political and cultural economies: how do perceptions of and narratives about crises and disaster (Roitman 2014), whether environmental or financial, facilitate finance capital’s expansion into new markets, arenas, classes, and products?
• The role, and ongoing salience, of austerity politics in disaster capitalism: how might the relationship between austerity politics and “natural” disasters be changing as finance capitalism and neoliberalism themselves evolve/see challenges?
• Ongoing methodological issues, and/or strategies for overcoming them: how are researchers and engaged scholars confronting the difficulties of exploring transnational financial networks and large-scale processes, very concrete and local effects of environmental crisis and transformations, and often (deliberately) opaque linkages between these levels? How do such choices matter in shaping/delimiting possibilities for critical scholarship and partnerships?


Bigger, P., Dempsey, J. 2018. The ins and outs of neoliberal natures. Environment and Planning E 1(1-2): 1-19

Christophers, B. (2017). Climate change and financial instability: Risk disclosure and the problematics of neoliberal governance. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(5), 1108-1127.

Ekers, M., & Prudham, S. (2015). Towards the socio-ecological fix. Environment and Planning A, 47(12), 2438-2445.

Fletcher, R. 2012. Capitalizing on chaos: Climate change and disaster capitalism. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 12(1/2): 97-112

Fox Gotham, K., Greenberg, M. 2014. Crisis Cities: Disaster and redevelopment in New York and New Orleans. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Johnson, L. 2017. Catastrophic fixes: Cyclical devaluation and accumulation through climate change impacts. Environment and Planning A 47: 2503-2521

Klein, N. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York: Picador

Knuth, S., S. Potts, J.E. Goldstein. 2018. In value’s shadows: Devaluation as accumulation frontier. Environment and Planning A. In Press.

Ouma, S., L. Johnson, P. Bigger. 2018. Rethinking the financialization of ‘nature’. Environment and Planning A 50(3) 500-511

Peet, R. 2011. Contradictions of finance capitalism. Monthly Review 63(7): 18-32

Pulido, L. 2016. Flint, environmental racism, and racial capitalism. Capitalism Nature Socialism 27(3) 1-16

Ranganathan, M. 2016. Thinking with Flint: Racial liberalism and the roots of an American water tragedy. Capitalism Nature Socialism 27(3)

Roitman, J. 2014. Anti-Crisis. Durham: Duke University Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Matthew Archer*, Copenhagen Business School, Emergent Sustainability in a Scandinavian Bank 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Albina Gibadullina*, University of British Columbia, Complexity as an Accumulation Strategy: The Performativity of Complexity Discourses in Global Financial Governance 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Benjamin Rubin*, CUNY - Graduate Center, Growth by Abandonment: Oil booms, busts, and the production of financial and environmental crisis 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Kimberley Thomas*, Temple University, Perfect environments for investment: disaster capitalism and climate change in Vietnam and Bangladesh 20 9:00 AM
Discussant Miriam Greenberg 20 9:20 AM

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