Everyday Emergencies: Routinized Exceptionalism in Environmental Assessment and Regulation

Type: Virtual Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM (PST)
Room: Virtual 45
Organizers: Katherine Clifford, Jennifer Sedell
Chairs: Katherine Clifford


This session explores the nature of emergencies in environmental governance by looking at instances in which local, state, and federal governments declaring an emergency or assigning "exceptional conditions" have become routine. Scholars in political ecology and related fields have demonstrated the degree to which natural disasters are hardly natural (Hewitt 1983; Wisner et al. 2004; Simon 2017) and, indeed, even constructed (Kaika 2006; Collins 2008; Watts 2013). Government responses to disasters vary considerably, but often involve a temporary lifting of select sanctions whilst enacting others forms of discipline in order to facilitate rapid response. Utilizing regulations designed for exceptional or crisis situations, these emergency declarations or designations often allow agencies to make sense of and act on situations differently than under "normal" conditions (Honig 2009). In many cases, this is accomplished by suspending required assessments, procedures, and regulatory requirements that could impede the speed of response, such as for biological invasions or disease outbreak (Hinchliffe et al. 2017; Sedell 2019), or allow otherwise prohibited actions, such as allowing the use or release of banned substances (Guthman 2019; Clifford in preparation). Given the frequency of such declarations in particular locations or contexts, they raise questions about what is "normal" and what is "exceptional" in environmental conditions, governance, and attendant politics. Tracking frequent emergency declarations and designations of exceptional conditions in environmental governance facilitates exploration of social-biophysical processes-such as wildfire, drought, novel biological introductions, pathogen emergence, or particle counts-in tandem with evolving government practices. We are especially interested in how emergency declarations and designations facilitate workarounds to "normal" assessments of environmental and health impacts-such as air, soil or water quality or pesticide exposures-as well as how they impact oversight of and public engagement in environmental monitoring and regulation (Howard 2013).


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jennifer Sedell*, University of California, Davis, Living with Pests, Living with Quarantines: Routinized Exceptionalism to Protect California Ag 15 11:10 AM
Presenter Dean Chahim*, Stanford University, Exceptional Routines: Materiality, Rationalization, and the Challenge of Public Oversight in Mexico City’s Flood Control System 15 11:25 AM
Presenter Gregory Simon*, University of Colorado Denver, “The Big One”: Origins and Expressions of an Elusive Emergency 15 11:40 AM
Presenter Katherine Clifford*, , Natural Exceptions or Exceptional Natures?: Regulatory science and the production of rarity 15 11:55 AM

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