Catastrophic Communities. On the Political Dilemmas of Disaster Governability

Internationale Ringvorlesung mit Grégoire Chamayou

The prospect of a possible nuclear war gave rise in the USA in the 1950s to a multifaceted field of reflection on "disaster planning", including contributions from researchers in social psychology, behavioral sciences and economics. In addition to the loss of life and material destruction, one of the major concerns was the collective reaction to such an event, with the fear of a dangerous loss of control.

In this lecture, I will outline some of the ways in which this problem was posed, and the programmatic avenues that were sketched out in response. In addition to the figures of the panic mob and the war of all against all, I'll be looking in particular at the thematization of the political danger that could have been represented by the transformation of "therapeutic communities" into a revolt movement, and the shift from emergency management to a "socialism of disaster". These two scenarios show with particular acuity how disaster planning thought has been torn between the practical need to mobilize and involve communities in a civil defense endeavor designed to manage potential disasters, while at the same time dreading the associated political dynamics of a potentially subversive participatory takeover in troubled times.

Ort: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, IG-Farben Nebengebäude, Raum 2.701