Victor Marchezini, The Biopolitics of Disaster: Power, Discourses, and Practices, Human Organization, Vol. 74, Iss. 4, (Winter 2015): 362-371. DOI:10.17730/0018-7259-74.4.362
With the increase in frequency and visibility of disasters in contemporary state societies, national governments have developed a collection of agencies to manage catastrophic events. These institutions invariably deal with human populations as a political, scientific, and biological problem, an approach Michel Foucault described as biopolitical. In this article, I discuss some aspects of disaster governance, focusing on the long-term recovery process. Specifically, I analyze the fundamental biopolitical assumptions of the discourses and practices on the part of governmental disaster response agencies in Sào Luiz do Paraitinga, Brazil. In this case of biopolitical response to disaster, the discourses and practices implemented by governmental agencies created the illusion that state agencies successfully responded to the disaster by saving biological lives. This article shows how these biopolitcal discourses and practices also had the unintended and unacknowledged effects of devaluing social lives and abandoning disaster-affected populations. By calling attention to the unintended and unacknowledged effects of biopolitical governance, this article demonstrates how disaster anthropology can document and address the shortcomings of governmental disaster recovery policy and practice.