American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: One year. Eight years. Eighteen years. After disaster, life goes on. Individuals, communities and countries rebuild and restructure, leaving the time of disaster behind while they simultaneously incorporate its affective realities into their everyday lives. How can we understand the relationship between time and transformation in the wake of major natural disasters? How are these relationships mediated by specific social, political, and economic contexts which may torque and twist the material and affective experiences of reconstruction? How, in turn, do such experiences co-constitute local, national and global political trajectories? By putting in conversation several anthropologists engaged in disaster-aftermath research across time and space, this panel seeks to integrate diverse recent approaches to understanding the long tail of disaster aftermaths – with an eye towards producing useable anthropological knowledge in the present as we prepare for future disasters.
The first four papers address a series of earthquakes and associated tsunamis that have occurred over the last two decades, ordered according to decreasing temporal distance from the disaster.
Eighteen years out: Edward Simpson on Gujarat, India (2001);
Fifteen years out: Michele Gamburd on Sri Lanka (2004);
Eight years out: Chika Watanabe on Japan (2011);
Four years out: Sara Shneiderman on Nepal (2015)
The final paper starts from a different temporal standpoint altogether: Jennifer Kramer considers how First Nations communities in British Columbia utilize oral tradition and other performative strategies to transmit knowledge of earthquake experiences across multiple generations—in this case 319 years out from the moment of disaster itself (1700).
Moving beyond the notion that ‘reconstruction’ is a singular and unidirectional process, all of these papers consider in some way how shifting temporal horizons in relation to the moment of disaster itself inflect community experiences. New political, social and material realities take shape over time, along with new modes of knowledge production to narrate them. Our Chair, Vincanne Adams, and Discussant, Anthony Oliver-Smith, both bring in-depth knowledge of other disaster contexts (Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Peru after a massive earthquake in 1970) into the mix. As a group, we hope to highlight the unique contributions that ethnographers can make to broader transdisciplinary conversations about disaster aftermath and preparedness, and work towards strategies for further collaboration in the hopes of bridging some of the geographical, disciplinary, and pragmatic divides that constrain effective planning and response in today’s world of ever-increasing risk and uncertainty.
With two faculty members from University of British Columbia (UBC) involved, we are also working towards hosting a public event on campus to complement the AAA panel. This will bring panelists into conversation with the broader Vancouver-based community of scholars and practitioners in the disaster risk reduction field, in conjunction with the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s current exhibition, ‘Shake Up: Preserving What We Value’ exhibit at MOA about earthquakes on the Northwest Coast .