Spring 2014

The Social Life of Catastrophe

Listed in: Anthropology and Sociology, as ANTH-420


Christopher T. Dole (Section 01)


“Disaster” and “catastrophe” are themes that have long hovered on the margins of anthropology, appearing frequently as oblique warnings of irreversible cultural and linguistic loss. Anthropologists have more recently embraced these terms with new urgency as disasters have come to attract unprecedented attention on a global scale and “disaster” has emerged as an essential idiom for conceptualizing life and survival in the contemporary world. This course sets out to critically engage disaster and catastrophe as conceptual challenges and, through this engagement, examine the distinctive intertwining of political, scientific, and affective processes that one finds in settings marked by large-scale destruction. While the term “natural disaster” would seem to suggest that catastrophic events pay no heed to such human concerns as race, class, and gender, how do we explain the ways that disasters tend to have the most destructive effect on those furthest from the centers of political and economic power? How is it that humanitarianism has taken hold as such a compelling mode of contemporary politics? What does it mean for “communities” to recover from catastrophe, and why do these social projects of recovery inevitably involve – if not expressly target – the “healing” of memories? These questions, among others, will be explored through the reading of richly contextualized accounts of specific events and actual lives.

Limited to 20 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Dole.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to seniors and Anthropology majors.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014