Theories for Practice in Conflict, Crisis, and Recovery

Course topics and objectives:
How do we understand the relationship between crisis, recovery and the built environment at the beginning of the 21st century? Conflicts and disasters (both “natural” and human-made) are both symptoms and evidence of asymmetrical urban, territorial, and social development. For this reason, any ethically defensible response to a catastrophic event should go beyond “mere” reconstruction and imagine new, more resilient, and more equitable forms of urbanization. This research seminar will therefore examine situations of ‘post-disaster recovery’, as an opportunity to rethink, conceptually redefine, and proactively reconstruct or reconfigure new forms of urbanization.

Historically, this class has explored the social construction of crisis, disasters and emergencies through a critical interpretive lens that situates contemporary discourses on disaster response within theories of crisis and the ‘natural’, and with special attention on modernization, globalization, and urbanization. In so doing, we identify the conditions under which certain crises or related challenges are considered normal or routine, as opposed to exceptional. This spring we will modify the class to more purposefully examine contemporary developments that have captured the global imagination, most particularly the emergence of social movements that define themselves as pushing back against ongoing crisis and disaster related to power structures and their disastrous impacts on peoples, territories, and longer-term human sustainability. Specifically, we pay special attention to social movements and other forms of mobilization emerging in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police; the Covid-19 pandemic; and the intensified destruction of precarious ecologies through resource extraction, urbanization, and statist development projects intended to supplant global political and economic power (i.e. fracking, deforestation, mining, petroleum extraction , and so on).  We move beyond the abstract to ground our inquiry in the physical world and with close attention to the political. In addition to examining the variety of actors involved in these social movements, we will pay special attention to the spatial strategies and tactics they deploy, the languages of individual versus collective rights and responsibilities they may reference, and the degrees to which these movements create social and political alliances at a variety of scales – including with NGOs, citizens, professional planners, political parties, and governing institutions including those operating internationally – that lay the pathway for constructive change. 

Course format and methods of evaluation:
This course is a reading, writing, and research seminar, with short essays or commentaries due throughout. However, final deliverables can be either an extended paper/essay or a project. Either way, the class requires sustained participation throughout the semester. Readings span multiple disciplines in the social sciences: urban studies, geography, sociology, political philosophy, and science and technology studies (STS). Some assignments will be collective, others individual. Students will use a variety of methodologies such as analytical mapping and design techniques as well as archival, survey, planning, ecological, engineering, and critical conservation practices to offer projective ideas and grounded proposals that put humanism, justice, and values of racial, gender, social, and class equity at the center of any  vision for sustainable futures.