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Using Critical Physical Geography With Epistemontology: An Investigation of the 2018 Securitization of NFIP Flood Exposure

Authors: Troy Brundidge*, Northeastern Illinois University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Human-Environment Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: hazards, insurance, catastrophe, finance, economic, financialization, socionature, Critical Physical Geography, CPG
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Insurers, municipalities, and recently FEMA increasingly turn to capital finance mechanisms to relieve the costs of disaster events. This is exemplified by the catastrophe bond— one form of the asset class known as insurance-linked securities. In August 2018, FEMA announced its first catastrophe bond, FloodSmart Re, on behalf of the National Flood Insurance Program. This is significant for U.S. flood management policy, in that it suggests renewed confidence in the insurability of flood peril—which has been absent since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Much of the reemergence is due to technological advances, such as the rise in LIDAR capability, the 2014 commercial availability of 2-D floodplain visualization, and new developments in finance engineering— all of which are fundamental to catastrophe risk modeling and pricing. Thus, opportunities exist to study catastrophe models as constructions comprised of disparate forums of articulation. Using Kordela’s (2016) concept of “epistemontology”, which operationalizes Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism, this investigation examines catastrophe modeling as an a priori conception of value assemblages that presuppose practitioners’ a posteriori knowledge of
hazards. Thus, this paper proposes a critical physical geography approach to explore the
social processes necessary to yield more-than physical characterizations of hazards. This study uses grounded theory and critical discourse analysis to interpret texts and statements attributed to 31 sources identified as insurance experts, institutional finance practitioners, or risk modelers. The study finds that CPG and epistemontology are useful to
analyze the co-produced catastrophe model as a tool valued for its ability to create value.

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