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Mobile Disasters

Catastrophes in the Age of Manufactured Uncertainty

Steve Matthewman

Keywords: Anthropocene; biopollution; disaster; everyday disaster; Fukushima; manufactured uncertainty; mobile disaster; new mobilities paradigm (NMP)


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.

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