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.


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