Afterlife: Recovering Life after Catastrophe

Quadrant: Global Cultures

Understanding catastrophic occurrences, whether they are events of "natural" disasters, political violence, technological accidents, developmental debacles and so on, appears to be one of the most vexing, if not under-researched questions of contemporary social research. These events, at the simplest, destabilize categories of the natural, political, social, cultural and economic; or even limits of the temporal and spatial, almost always disallowing frames of clear representation or analysis.

Yasmeen Arif's approach to understanding catastrophes is based on a re-framing of the "event" in a way that privileges the analytic rather than the diagnostic or definitive. She proposes the combined analytic of the catastrophe/afterlife as a device with which to apprehend the idea that understanding catastrophes is about combining the problem of the event with the unfolding of an afterlife. By afterlife, she suggests a complex of discourse and practice that is involved in reclaiming disrupted and damaged life. Using a template of "events" - Hurricane Katrina (USA), the 1984 Sikh carnage (India) and others, she proposes an empirical assemblage that breaks conventional categories, from which to draw the analytical potential of catastrophe/afterlife. The central query that coheres the discussion is: How is life constituted at the threshold of damage and recovery?

University of Minnesota