Political Geography Plenary: Yarimar Bonilla speaks on The Coloniality of Disaster: Race, Empire, and Emergency in Puerto Rico, USA

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Political Geography Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Specialty Group Highlighted Session
Poster #:
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Kevin Grove
Chairs: Kevin Grove


This presentation will use the case of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to discuss “the coloniality of disaster,” that is how catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, but also other forms political and economic crisis deepen the fault lines of long-existing racial and colonial histories. In doing so I build on an entire cannon of disaster-ology within the social sciences. I am thus able to extend a series of already established arguments, such as: First, the fact that there is no such thing as a natural disaster: all disasters are socially produced. Second, that disasters should not be understood as sudden events, but rather the outcome of long histories of slow/structural violence. That “Vulnerability” (both social and environmental) is thus not a natural state but the product of racio-colonial governance. And that, despite lip service to the contrary, disasters do not operate as “great levelers”: their effects are experienced differentially through preexisting hierarchies of race, class, and gender and indeed they often serve to sharpen those relations of inequality. I thus argue that disaster capitalism needs to be understood as foundationally a form of racio-colonial capitalism and that this in turn requires us to question our understandings of “resilience”— or the ability to absorb and bounce back from experiences of shock. We certainly want our buildings and bridges to be resilient but do we really want our communities to become well-adapted to structural violence? Moreover, we must ask: which are the communities that are historically required to demonstrate resilience, required to repeatedly endure the shocks and traumas of late liberal capitalism, social neglect, not to mention the angry winds of climate change? In what ways does resilience actually enhance certain kinds of vulnerability? With these questions in mind my hope is that ultimately this project can help us develop new ways of imagining what recovery might look like. That is, if we understand disasters to have deep colonial histories, how can we then formulate visions of repair that take those longer histories into account?


Type Details Minutes
Introduction Kevin Grove Florida International University 10
Panelist Yarimar Bonilla Rutgers University 20
Discussant Laura Pulido University of Oregon - Eugene, OR 20
Discussant Kevon Rhiney Rutgers University 20
Discussant Gustavo Garcia-Lopez University of Puerto Rico 20

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