Mobile Disasters

Catastrophes in the Age of Manufactured Uncertainty

in Transfers
Steve Matthewman University of Auckland

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Sociologists of disasters and those agencies dedicated to disaster risk reduction and emergency relief tend to fix disasters, to confine them in time and space. This article argues for the necessity of a mobilities turn within mainstream disaster studies, demonstrating what the new mobilities paradigm (NMP) can contribute to disaster scholarship. Disasters should be seen as mobile agents with spatially and temporally dispersed effects. They are mobile because people, nonhuman life-forms, information, and commodities move. The ecosystems and earth systems that sustain us are also always in flux. Instead of focusing on isolated disaster cases, this article calls for a “big picture” ecological sensibility that recognizes the complexity and interconnectivity of our world, and addresses the new forms of mobility, temporality, spatiality, and potency inherent to today’s disasters. This task is urgent: while previous eras may have announced the apocalypse, ours may well be the last one to do so.

Contributor Notes

Steve Matthewman is Head of the sociology department at the University of Auckland and President of the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand. He is coeditor in chief of the Journal of Sociology. Teaching and research interests include the sociology of disasters, social theory, and science and technology studies. Recent publications include assessments of Ulrich Beck’s risk society thesis and the work of Bruno Latour, the need for a strong program to research the military, and a book on disasters. His latest research project looks at the rebuilding of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. E-mail:

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