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Publication Detail
Unprecedented natures? An anatomy of the Chennai floods
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Arabindoo P
  • Publisher:
    Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    786, 807
  • Journal:
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Print ISSN:
  • Keywords:
    floods, environmental knowledges and subjectivities, unprecedented, urbanisation of disaster, risk and resilience
Between November and December 2015, the southern Indian city of Chennai (alongside the northern coastal regions in the state of Tamil Nadu) experienced torrential rains with unanticipated flood consequences. Notoriously known as India’s “water scarcity capital”, instead of the proverbial ‘poor monsoons’, a series of low-pressure depressions with ‘record-breaking’ rainfall submerged the city rapidly, as homes and apartments flooded, communications were cut, and transportation came to a standstill including the closure of the airport. Even as environmental activists took the state and its allied actors (in the development and planning sector) to task over what they considered was a deliberate and reckless ‘urbanisation of disaster’, the state sought refuge in the argument that this was an unprecedented (global) weather anomaly. Recognising the need for a more robust (post) disaster discussion, this paper offers an anatomy of the floods that begs a broader rethink of twenty-first century urban disasters and argues that the current discourse offered by the social science of disaster is insufficient in unravelling the complex spatial and environmental histories behind disasters. It goes beyond setting up a mere critique of capitalist urbanisation to offer a cogent debunking of the deeply engrained assumptions about the unprecedented nature of disasters. It does so by dismantling three commonly invoked arguments that transgress any kind of environmental common sense: 1. The 100-year flood fallacy, 2. The ensuing debates around environmental knowledges and subjectivities, and 3. The need to spatially rescale (and regionalise) the rationale of the ‘urbanisation of disaster’. It concludes by raising concerns over the persistence of a resilience discourse, one that relies on the will of the ‘expert’ underwriting not only a non-specific techno-scientific approach but also perpetuates a politicisation of risk that shows little promise of accommodating new epistemologies that are socio-ecologically progressive.
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