Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human and Environmental Catastrophe Paperback – November 15, 2010
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
“I consider Disaster Culture required reading for victims of environmental disasters and those charged with managing them. The next time a dam collapses or a rig explodes, my advice is to pick up this book. Dr. Button skillfully outs corporate and government officials whose post-disaster spin tactics repeatedly exacerbated public suffering, slowed recovery, and prevented long-term solutions.”
—Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel, Earthjustice
“Drawing on his hands-on expertise, and providing a comparative survey of the key recent incidents, Gregory Button gives us an important new analysis of the disaster as a modern phenomenon.”
—Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
“In this illuminating, timely and sometimes moving book, Gregory Button combines an anthropologist’s socio-cultural insight with a journalist’s storytelling skill and eye for detail, showing how science, industry and the media become politicized and manipulated in the struggle to gain control over the interpretation of disastrous events. Button skillfully deconstructs the knowledge and information created to assess causation, damage, and responsibility, demonstrating how vested interests avoid culpability, responsibility, and liability. Particularly crucial is the problem of uncertainty and contingency, inherent in science, and the ways its calculated manipulation has been used to erase the lived experience of disaster-affected peoples, whose anguish, despair, grief, anger, and activism are evocatively presented, often in their own voices. This book will become required reading in any course on disasters as well as for anyone concerned with the issues of social and environmental justice that disasters inevitably bring to the fore.”
—Anthony Oliver-Smith, University of Florida
About the Author
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Button, who teaches cultural anthropology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a specialization in environmental issues and disasters, points out that disasters are not just physical and social disruptive events, but are also political in nature. "Thus disaster analysis must examine power relations among the various agencies and institutions involved in the event and the people affected by disaster"(16). These power relations are important to look at, because all involved tend to interpret disasters through a lens shaped by their self-interest which gives rise to competing interpretations. Also, the power relations are often asymmetrical because government agencies and corporations have more resources and more effective public relations tactics to deploy, while the disaster victims are often, if not all the time, at a disadvantage in trying to have their uncertainties resolved about the real hazards they are exposed to. In this context uncertainty is not just a minor side effect of a disaster, but something which is socially constructed and often manipulated by "the conscious tendency to manufacture, revise, or withhold knowledge ..."(16).
In all these case studies it becomes painfully clear that disaster victims and the public in general are swimming in "A Sea of Uncertainty" as the title of the first case study reads, and that these uncertainties are generally generated by multiple routes like a) the many conflicting accounts in the press; b) the dichotomy between local knowledge and what institutions claim; or by c) the manipulation, withholding or outright creation of knowledge by corporations and some government agencies.
According to Button the lessons to be learned from this study are many. First of all, and this should be broadcast widely, the excuse by corporations and government agencies to withhold information out of fear of creating a panic is moot. Button cites a study by sociologist and Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Dennis S. Mileti, which concluded that people in general do not shift into panic mode when confronted with dire information. Secondly, the conclusion that corporations responsible for disasters should not be given overall responsibility to deal with their aftermath, which was arrived at after the sub-par, self-serving involvement of Exxon in the clean-up of the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, should stand firmly and should have been applied to British Petroleum, "a corporation which had the worst safety record in U.S. waters" (245), in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Thirdly, it is necessary that a clean-up takes place of some corrupt government agencies, especially the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in the Department of the Interior regulating off-shore drilling. As happened so often, agencies in charge of certain industries end up being run by those industries themselves and in Button's analysis the MMS is an egregious example in this regard. Furthermore, technologies dealing with oil spills and clean-up have to be dramatically upgraded. Too little progress has been made since the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill. And more research has to be conducted to determine long-term health effects on those who end up cleaning the oil.
But the overall and most important conclusion Button leaves us with is that we have to start thinking radically differently about disasters.
As we have witnessed, in times of calamity, corporations, state agencies, social advocacy organizations, and other actors attempt to control disaster narratives by adopting public relations strategies that may either downplay or amplify a sense of uncertainty in order to advance political and policy goals. Obviously we need to change the way we conceptualize disasters and the way we respond to them. We cannot afford to repeat these mistakes for decades to come. (247; italics in original)
Besides those who contemplate a beach vacation at the Gulf or want to go kayaking along the shores of Alaska, this book is of great significance for any and all people involved in disasters and those concerned about the future of the environment. This study is an important, maybe even ground-breaking, contribution to our understanding and possible management of the the dangers of our industrialized society. Ignoring its lessons will be perilous to our health and well-being.