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25 Years

Enduring Disasters in Sri Lanka

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 3:00pm
Event Location: 

Dr. Vivian Choi, Enduring Disasters in Sri Lanka


This talk examines the intersections of two disasters in Sri Lanka: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the decades-long civil war that ended in May 2009. Focusing on fieldwork conducted between 2008 and 2009, I outline the ways that the tsunami opened the door for national and social restructuring in Sri Lanka: the devastation of the tsunami and the logics of disaster risk management that followed it offered a political opening for new techniques of state power and projects of nation-building. This governmentality of disaster risk management is upheld by a logic that presumes that disasters, both natural and human-made, are ever-possible future threats that justify on-going practices and technologies of securitization. I show how state-mandated projects of preparedness breed insecurity, such that disasters, even after their supposed ends, continue to be a part everyday life. This is the enduring disaster: the on-going crisis of nationalism and nation-building in Sri Lanka, where crisis is the ordinary. Within this national time-space of disaster, then, I detail the experiences of those living amidst and with the ever-present possibility of disaster and how disasters are endured. These experiences constitute life in the aftermath in Sri Lanka, eliciting modes of enduring and persisting  – a living through and with on-going crisis – that negotiates, but does not necessarily seek to transcend the technopolitics of state power.  

Vivian is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Olaf College.  Before moving to Minnesota, she was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee and an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society for the Humanities and the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University.  She received her degree in Cultural Anthropology at UC Davis.  Currently she is delighted to be on-leave from St. Olaf with the support of the Hunt Fellowship, a writing grant funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, during which she will be working on her first book manuscript entitled Disaster Nationalism: Tsunami and Civil War in Sri Lanka.  She is also co-editor and co-creator of Writing with Light, an anthropological photo initiative published with the support of the journals Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review.