Imaginations – University of Copenhagen

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Changing Disasters > About the project > Imaginations

Imaginations

The research cluster on imaginations investigates the meaning systems and practises by which humans interpret and cope with seemingly abrupt disasters.

The imagination of disasters is a social practice determined by various formalised concepts and procedures. Risk managers frame the imaginations of disaster as a question of calculable and foreseeable risks. Large corporations such as religious institutions and other idea-based organisations reflect upon worst-case scenarios in order to be able to adjust to future disasters. Communities, humanitarian organisations and families are guided by an 'emergency imaginary' that frame their interventions in disaster zones. Climate change researchers use scenario building as a vital scientific tool, while philosophers of science confront questions of the unimaginable and improbable events

At the same time the imagination of disasters is an informal social practice guided by the changing popular understanding of disaster and normality, most often determined by local habits, local and global news media, disaster fiction, and philosophical and religious systems of meaning. At this level, disaster 'myths' frame the way humans perceive disasters and respond to them. Understandings of vulnerability, safety, and fear are not just social facts but also informed by affective economics co-determined by the imagination of disasters.

The cultural imagination of disasters plays a crucial role in responding to the challenges of climate change. On an even larger scale, the imagination of disasters is a way of integrating violent events into existing cultural perceptions of meaning and order, as epitomised in the theodicy discussions after the paradigmatic Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and revived again after the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

A central aim of this research cluster is to integrate the institutional and the cultural level of the imagination of disaster. This will be done by focussing on the "emergency imaginary" that determines the professional as well as the popular perception of disasters. As an underlying social imaginary the emergency imaginary frames the interpretation of the relationship between exceptionality and normality, between natural evils and human wrongdoings, between decline and growth, between safety and precariousness.

For further information please contact Professor Niels Henrik Gregersen or Associate Professor Isak Winkel Holm.