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The Neoliberal Deluge

Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans

Cedric Johnson

Publication Year: 2011

Katrina was not just a hurricane. The death, destruction, and misery wreaked on New Orleans cannot be blamed on nature’s fury alone. This volume of essays locates the root causes of the 2005 disaster squarely in neoliberal restructuring and examines how pro-market reforms are reshaping life, politics, economy, and the built environment in New Orleans.

The authors—a diverse group writing from the disciplines of sociology, political science, education, public policy, and media theory—argue that human agency and public policy choices were more at fault for the devastation and mass suffering experienced along the Gulf Coast than were sheer forces of nature. The harrowing images of flattened homes, citizens stranded on rooftops, patients dying in makeshift hospitals, and dead bodies floating in floodwaters exposed the moral and political contradictions of neoliberalism—the ideological rejection of the planner state and the active promotion of a new order of market rule.

Many of these essays offer critical insights on the saga of postdisaster reconstruction. Challenging triumphal narratives of civic resiliency and universal recovery, the authors bring to the fore pitched battles over labor rights, gender and racial justice, gentrification, the development of city master plans, the demolition of public housing, policing, the privatization of public schools, and roiling tensions between tourism-based economic growth and neighborhood interests. The contributors also expand and deepen more conventional critiques of “disaster capitalism” to consider how the corporate mobilization of philanthropy and public good will are remaking New Orleans in profound and pernicious ways.

Contributors: Barbara L. Allen, Virginia Polytechnic U; John Arena, CUNY College of Staten Island; Adrienne Dixson, Ohio State U; Eric Ishiwata, Colorado State U; Avis Jones-Deweever, National Council of Negro Women; Chad Lavin, Virginia Polytechnic U; Paul Passavant, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Linda Robertson, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Chris Russill, Carleton U; Kanchana Ruwanpura, U of Southampton; Nicole Trujillo-Pagán, Wayne State U; Geoffrey Whitehall, Acadia U.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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Preface: “Obama’s Katrina”

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pp. vii-xvi

This is a book about disaster. In the most immediate sense, the essays gathered here explore the unique causes and impacts of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. The massive category 3 storm precipitated catastrophic levee failures, flooding, and social misery in New Orleans and transformed the demographic character of the city ...

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Introduction: The Neoliberal Deluge

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pp. xvii-l

Hurricane Gustav in 2008 was the first major emergency trial for the city of New Orleans since the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. And there was reason to worry. Gustav had reached category 4 strength as it swept across the westernmost end of Cuba days earlier. ...

Part I. Governance

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1. From Tipping Point to Meta-Crisis: Management, Media, and Hurricane Katrina

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pp. 3-31

Political discourse teems with crisis. Often, this is hyperbolic and opportunistic rhetoric mobilized in the service of a particular agenda or a media strategy to increase ratings. Sometimes, as during the first days of September 2005, when much of New Orleans lay beneath water, and when thousands of the most vulnerable residents were stranded ...

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2. “We Are Seeing People We Didn’t Know Exist”: Katrina and the Neoliberal Erasure of Race

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pp. 32-59

On September 1, 2005, four days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Jim Lehrer interviewed Michael Brown (then-director of FEMA) on PBS’s NewsHour. Five minutes into the interview, after becoming exasperated by Brown’s stilted refrain — “we’re moving as fast as we can” — Lehrer read a list of FEMA’s failings and asked: ...

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3. Making Citizens in Magnaville: Katrina Refugees and Neoliberal Self-Governance

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pp. 60-84

The 2008 film Trouble the Water was heralded as the best Katrina film in many corners for its first-person account of Kim Rivers Roberts’s struggle to survive and rebuild her life after the waters consumed her Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood. The film stands out because filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal drive the narrative ...

Part II. Urbanity

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4. Mega-Events, the Superdome, and the Return of the Repressed in New Orleans

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pp. 87-129

Hurricane Katrina puts before us once more the question of the state and neoliberalism.1 The contemporary state is represented in contradictory ways. The neoliberal state is represented as being small and weak due to a preference for market-based solutions to problems and a propensity to privatize its functions. ...

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5. Whose Choice? A Critical Race Perspective on Charter Schools

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pp. 130-151

In fall 2005, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco signed into law Legislative Act 35 (LA 35), which gave the state power to control failing school districts. As a result of LA 35, the state board of education established the Recovery School District (RSD) and took control of 107 of 128 New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS). ...

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6. Black and White, Unite and Fight? Identity Politics and New Orleans’s Post-Katrina Public Housing Movement

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pp. 152-184

In his provocative essay, “Why Is There No Black Political Movement?" political scientist Adolph Reed defines a political movement as a “force that has shown a capability, over time, of mobilizing popular support for programs that expressly seek to alter the patterns of public policy or economic relations.” ...

Part III. Planning

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7. Charming Accommodations: Progressive Urbanism Meets Privatization in Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation

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pp. 187-224

In the waning months of 2007, New Orleans fell in love with Brad Pitt, the Hollywood actor with runway-model looks and the conscience and chutzpah of Sean Penn without the self-righteous attitude. Uniting residents, activists, and some of the most renowned architects in the world, Pitt launched the Make It Right (MIR) Foundation, ...

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8. Laboratorization and the “Green” Rebuilding of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward

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pp. 225-244

In the days and months following the flooding from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005, no neighborhood received more coverage than the destruction of the Lower Ninth Ward. Aft er the storm, the floodwall separating the neighborhood from a navigable industrial canal ruptured, releasing a torrent of water, ...

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9. Squandered Resources? Grounded Realities of Recovery in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka

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pp. 245-266

I had just returned from my usual early morning hours at the gym and found an e-mail from a British friend inquiring whether I was safe from the threat of the impending hurricane. I lived in upstate New York. Of course, I was! Still I found the e-mail a little peculiar because between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. on August 29, 2005, ...

Part IV. Inequality

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10. How Shall We Remember New Orleans? Comparing News Coverage of Post-Katrina New Orleans and the 2008 Midwest Floods

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pp. 269-299

Many of America’s most influential television journalists vowed to take from their experience in New Orleans a commitment to covering issues related to race and poverty in America. The massive flooding during June and July 2008 in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, ...

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11. The Forgotten Ones: Black Women in the Wake of Katrina

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pp. 300-326

For most Americans, the horrors of Katrina have devolved into nothing more than a sad, but distant memory. We have written our checks, said our prayers, and, if we were especially generous, volunteered a few days or weeks of our time toward rebuilding efforts. ...

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12. Hazardous Constructions: Mexican Immigrant Masculinity and the Rebuilding of New Orleans

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pp. 327-354

For a couple of weeks, media images of New Orleans flooded television sets and computer screens as they documented the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Less visible amid these images were the Latinos who had lived and worked in the area prior to the hurricanes. ...


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pp. 355-358


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pp. 359-406

E-ISBN-13: 9780816678525
E-ISBN-10: 0816678529
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816673254

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2011