Governing Emergencies


Emergencies appear to be a defining feature of life today, whether in relation to terrorism, the credit-crunch, urban unrest, or weather related events. How do states and other organisations such as NGOs plan for and respond to these and other emergencies? And what are the consequences of ways of governing emergencies for life today? Funded by the Leverhulme Trust for a couple of years, the international research network will address these questions by mapping how, and with what consequences, emergencies are governed today. Amongst other questions, we’ll explore the distinctiveness of the government of emergency today by exploring:

  • How is life governed before, during and after emergencies take place?
  • How is human and non-human life valued and thereafter related to in different processes of governing before, during and after emergencies?
  • How has the term emergency been used in conjunction with other related terms (including catastrophe, crisis, and disaster) and what does this imply or assume about life in the global north and south?
  • What implications do different ways of governing emergency hold for political life in the global north and south?

We’ll have more details on our first event soon, in the meantime if you’re interested in similar questions get in touch with Dr Rachel Gordon, the network facilitator (

Slow Emergencies Workshop

A new workshop sponsored by Governing Emergencies.

We will be hosting the Slow Emergencies Workshop in Adelaide between 2-4 July 2016.

We will be posting updates about the workshop over the next few months.

The workshop is supported by the Governing Emergencies Leverhulme Trust International Network, the School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW, the Hazards, Risks, Disasters Study Group of the Institute of Australian Geographers and the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT.

For enquiries about the workshop please contact Matthew Kearnes (@mbkearnes) orLauren Rickards (@LaurenARickards)

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How to declare a public health emergency

Yesterday, 1st February 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. A PHEIC is an ‘extraordinary event’ which constitutes a public health risk to other communities through the international spread of disease and would potentially require an international response to bring it under control. This declaration was made following increasing concern about the spread of the Zika virus disease and its link to cases of babies born with microcephaly and other neurological disorders in Brazil. This declaration has a purpose – it will spur into action an international response. Continue reading

How drones use algorithms to govern your life

Fascinating piece on how drones use algorithms to govern life: detecting ‘suspicious behaviour’, instructing and controlling movements, predicting what you are going to do next…

Open Geography

How do drones use computational methods such as algorithms to govern your life? Here are ten ways.

Many people think (non-military) drones are only used by hobbyists, and then only to fly small Go-Pro cameras around.

This is mistaken.

Following is a partial listing of other ways drones perform algorithmic calculations on people. All of these are already here. The lesson is not that drones can do this and it’s about drones; rather the lesson is that drones are being used in algorithmic governance more generally.

These are examples from my files. Mostly these are non-military/intelligence usages but that distinction is not entirely tenable given the streams of expertise and knowledge between military and non-military drone research.

  1. Drones can assess abnormal or “suspicious” behavior.

    Japanese security company Secom, starting in December, will offer a surveillance service using drones designed to detect and track suspicious vehicles and people. The drones can…

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Governing Emergencies in New York: In Photos

The theme for the third Governing Emergencies workshop was Counting Loss. It provided an interesting and thought-provoking lens through which to engage with both the specific context of New York and broader intellectual themes on emergency, crisis and resilience that connected network participants. The workshop was a mixture of keynote presentations, by Kevin Grove and Marita Sturken, and group visits to New York sites. In this post, we present an outline of our explorative activities in the city through a collection of photographs.

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Counting Loss: Governing Emergencies Workshop 3

We’re about to hold the third workshop of the Governing Emergencies series. This time we’ll be in New York from the 5th to 6th November 2015. The theme of the workshop is Counting Loss.

Quantitative measures of loss fill the days, weeks, months, and years following a disaster. The number of dead and injured, the total economic damage, the number of houses damaged or destroyed, and insured and uninsured losses, to name but a few, convey the event’s magnitude. Indeed, insurance uses the term ‘loss event’ to describe such catastrophes. Here, loss refers to a verifiable, quantifiable, monetary damage that must be repaired, restored, remunerated, or otherwise indemnified in order to overcome disaster and return to normalcy. But loss is not only a quantitative measure of past events. On the one hand, ‘loss’ may refer to a qualitative change that is specifically understood to be unmeasurable—a threshold, a break with the past, an event of individual or collective trauma. On the other hand, loss may also be a way of relating to or governing future disasters. A range of techniques to anticipate future disasters—from insurance to structural works to preparedness measures—require mechanisms to measure future loss through techniques such as catastrophe modelling or scenario-based exercises. Similarly, work on individual or collective trauma—such as memorials or museums—are a way of folding a calamitous past into the present and relating past loss to a collective future. The category of loss thus traverses the fractured temporality of emergencies and disaster. But the specific connections it establishes between the past, present and future, and the forms of social, political and ecological relations that become possible during and after a calamitous event, are contingent on the particular techniques that make loss visible and actionable in certain ways.

This workshop will focus on the various practices involved in “counting loss.” This phrase refers, in part, to the practices involved in quantifying or qualifying loss, from cost-benefit analyses, to actuarial measures, to the formation of disaster compensation funds, to “community” or “public” consultations involved in the design of memorials, museums, to participatory disaster planning. But it also refers to the question: when does loss count in political deliberations, technical decisions, or design processes? When does a measurement of past loss generate a claim in the present? What kinds of authority does it establish? And when and how does the measurement of possible future loss generate the ability to mobilize resources or lay claim to political prerogative? In emphasizing both counting loss and when loss counts, we are particularly interested in the way that the measurement of loss navigates the disjointed temporality around emergencies and disaster. Emergency is often taken to be a time of exception, in which normal rules are suspended. The measure of loss may serve as the hinge between an emergency—whether past or future—and the “normal” operations of government, of economic life, or of social interaction. In exploring how loss becomes measurable and manageable, we seek to focus critical attention on the ways liberal government folds emergency into the times and spaces of everyday life.

On the first day, we’ll be meeting at the New School to listen to a keynote delivered by Kevin Grove on ‘Post-Sandy accounting of past/future loss in NYC.’

This will be followed by a visit to RBD Offices to learn about the Dryline project, design and urban planning in NYC. Amy Chester, Managing Director, will be discussing the project with us. From there we will undertake a guided tour of Dryline intervention sites. Lilah Mejia, Disaster Preparedness Coordination, from LES Ready! will tell us more about vulnerability post-Sandy. In the evening, we will view ‘Sandy Storyline’ and listen to Rachel Faclcone tell us more about the film project.

On the second day, we will visit the 9/11 museum and memorial and listen to local historian Todd Fine speak about the area. Marita Sturken will then deliver a keynote on ‘Post 9/11 accounting of past loss in NYC’ followed by a discussion on the key theme of loss.

More information about the Dryline Project.

More information on the Sandy Storyline.


Governing Emergencies workshop – Emergency and Disaster Publics

We’re pleased to announce details of the second Governing Emergencies workshop on Emergency and Disaster Publics. It will take place in Rotterdam on the 4th and 5th June 2015. For the first day of the workshop, we will visit the Watersnoodmuseum in Ouwerkerk. The museum commemorates a flood event of 1953 in which over 1,800 people died. The museum is organised in the concrete caissons that were used to close the openings in the dykes during the floods. Continue reading

Governing Emergencies Issue of Theory Culture & Society

We’re pleased to announce that the new special issue of Theory Culture & Society on Governing Emergencies is now available. It draws together critical work on emergency, exploring the politics and techniques of governing emergencies and the experiences of living through and with emergency, focusing on a range of different types of emergency. The special issue has been edited by Peter Adey (Royal Holloway), Ben Anderson (Durham University) and Stephen Graham (Newcastle University).

The issue includes:

Introduction: Governing Emergencies: Beyond Exceptionality by Peter Adey, Ben Anderson, and Stephen Graham

Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency by Stephen Collier and Andrew Lakoff

The Theology of Emergency: Welfare Reform, US Foreign Aid and the Faith-Based Initiative by Melinda Cooper

Cybersecurity, Bureaucratic Vitalism and European Emergency by Stephanie Simon and Marieke de Goede

Future Emergencies: Temporal Politics in Law and Economy by Sven Opitz and Ute Tellmann

Governing Inflation: Price and Atmospheres of Emergency by Derek McCormack

‘Crowded Places Are Everywhere We Go’: Crowds, Emergency, Politics by Claudia Aradau

You can access the special issue on the Theory Culture & Society website.

Expanding Emergency: The 1964 Emergency Powers Act

The 1964 Emergency Powers Act was made law on 10th June 1964. It is only two paragraphs long, and received nothing of the intense political and public attention that surrounded the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act 1920 which it amends (see previous blog post). But it does instantiate a significant change in what can count as an emergency for the purpose of declaring a state of emergency. As part of the project on the UK emergency state, we’ve been looking at the Act. Continue reading

New issue of Limn on “Ebola Ecologies”

Issue 5 of Limn is now available and focuses on the 2014 Ebola outbreak. It is a great resource for anyone interested in global biosecurity emergencies and how global health norms, logics and techniques can be problematised through the case study of Ebola.

The issue includes:

  • Andrew Lakoff on “Two States of Emergency: Ebola 2014” – which questions to what exactly was the international response ‘slow and feeble.’
  • Ann H. Kelly on “Ebola, Running Ahead” – which looks at the design of clinical trials, asking the question: what does experimentation look like in the time of emergency?
  • Nicholas B. King on “Ebola, 1995/2014” – which focuses on the dialectics of confidence and paranoia in the Ebola outbreaks of 1995 and 2014.
  • And Peter Redfield on “Medical Vulnerability, or Where There Is No Kit” – which explores the role of medical humanitarian response

Contributions are made by Lyle Fearnley, Ann H. Kelly, Nicholas B. King, Guillaume Lachenal, Andrew Lakoff, Theresa MacPhail, Frédéric Le Marcis and Vinh-Kim Nguyen, Alex Nading, Joanna Radin, and Peter Redfield.

Thanks to Stephen Collier for the link to this.