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Law, Politics, and the Humanitarian Impulse

edited by Austin Sarat and Javier Lezaun

Publication Year: 2009

From 9/11 to Katrina, from Darfur to the Minnesota bridge collapse, ours is an “age of catastrophe.” In this era, catastrophic events seem to have a revelatory quality: they offer powerful reminders of the fragility of our social and institutional architectures, making painfully evident vulnerabilities in our social organization that were otherwise invisible. By disrupting the operation of fundamental mechanisms and infrastructures of the social order, they lay bare the conditions that make our sense of normalcy possible. At a time when societies are directing an unprecedented level of resources and ingenuity to anticipating and mitigating catastrophic events, Catastrophe: Law, Politics, and the Humanitarian Impulse examines the tests that catastrophe poses to politics and humanitarianism as well as to the law. It explores legal, political, and humanitarian responses during times when the sudden, discontinuous, and disastrous event has become, perhaps paradoxically, a structural component of our political imagination. It asks whether law, politics, and humanitarianism live up to the tests posed by disaster, and the role all of them play in creating a more resilient world. Taken together the essays in this book ask us to see through and beyond the myths that surround catastrophe and our responses to it. They ask us to rethink our understanding of catastrophe and to imagine new legal, political, and humanitarian responses. In addition to the editors, contributors include Thomas Birkland, Michele Landis Dauber, Kim Fortun, Edward Rackley, Peter Redfield, Peter H. Schuck, and Susan Sterett.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. ix

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Introduction: The Challenge of Crisis and Catastrophe in Law and Politics

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pp. 1-18

From the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina, from the Darfur tragedy to the Minnesota bridge collapse, ours is an “age of catastrophe.” In this era, catastrophic events seem to have a revelatory quality: they offer powerful reminders of the fragility of our social and institutional architectures, making painfully evident vulnerabilities in our...

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1. Crisis and Catastrophe in Science, Law, and Politics: Mapping the Terrain

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pp. 19-59

Crisis and catastrophe loom dauntingly, even impossibly, large in science and law. (I use the plural because crisis and catastrophe are quite distinct phenomena, despite their potential overlap.) They are also words that we moderns use so casually and promiscuously that their meanings have lost whatever precision they may have once possessed, and have acquired that ...

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2. The Real Third Rail of American Politics

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pp. 60-82

In 1962, Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, recalled the “Roots of Social Security” for an audience of Social Security Administration staff members. The Committee on Economic Security, which had broad agreement on most issues involved in drafting the Social Security Act, “broke out into a row because the legal problems were so...

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3. New Orleans Everywhere: Bureaucratic Accountability and Housing Policy after Katrina

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pp. 83-115

Housing assistance for those displaced from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina began immediately after the hurricane and continued for those who have qualified through March 2009, although the numbers have decreased over the years. Some lost assistance because they had found jobs and housing where they had moved. Others moved back to New...

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4. Emergency Management and the Courts in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

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pp. 116-145

This essay describes emergency management issues facing the courts, with a particular emphasis on the generally poor response to Hurricane Katrina by the courts in New Orleans (Orleans Parish), Louisiana. A broader purpose is to examine this failure through the lens provided by more than fifty years of research on human behavior in natural...

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5. Environmental Right-to-Know and the Transmutations of Law

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pp. 146-171

Law does more than codify, regulate, and control; it also catalyzes and transmutes, provoking cascading social and cultural effects, particularly when the force of law is informational.

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6. Reintegration, or the Explosive Remnants of War

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pp. 172-192

The categories used to situate and analyze humanitarian issues in policy are far cleaner than most events on the ground. Perhaps nowhere does this truism grow clearer than at the end of emergencies, when exceptional suffering fades into normal misery. Whereas crises and catastrophes suggest the decisive lucidity associated with urgent need...

Notes on Contributors

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p. 193


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pp. 195-202

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761595
E-ISBN-10: 1613761597
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558497375
Print-ISBN-10: 1558497374

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 5
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794701559
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Catastrophe

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Subject Headings

  • Emergency management -- Law and legislation -- United States.
  • Disaster relief -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Disaster relief -- Law and legislation -- United States.
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