City University of New York, Graduate Center
Writing on the Wall: From Disaster to Doing Something
Thursday, February 7, 2008
7:00 p.m. – Holland Union Building, Social Hall
Hurricane Katrina scoured the political economic landscape of New Orleans revealing the toll of decades of disinvestment in and ‘hostile privatism’ toward social reproduction in a city riddled with corrosive inequalities around class, race, and gender. Business and government have failed to address the social and economic needs of poor and working people in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. The toll can be seen in the unevenness of neighborhood and infrastructural recovery, the difficulty of establishing a stable workforce of residents, and the deepening of ongoing neoliberal tendencies toward privatization in education, healthcare, and housing. Focusing on these issues, we will look at the sorts of activism these failures have spurred. The discussion will center on community based political groups working to redress this situation in New Orleans, but will also connect their work to groups working elsewhere to draw out a ‘countertopography’ of activisms that interrogate the underlying politics and policies–explicit and implicit–that have undermind the social wage and produced this situation not just in New Orleans but all over the United States.
Issue in Context
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category five hurricane at its peak, made landfall and devastated many Louisiana communities, with New Orleans particularly hard hit. Katrina caused massive flooding from breaches in the levees, power outages, property damage, and considerable loss of life. Many people lost their homes and livelihoods, forced to live as refugees in their own country. Some still remain unable to return to their homes as recovery and rebuilding are incomplete.
The sluggishness and unevenness of recovery in New Orleans reveal the inequalities of class, “race”, and gender that persist in New Orleans. Local businesses, the local government and the national government have failed to provide for the social and economic needs of the poor citizens of New Orleans. Many poor, African American neighborhoods have been left in ruin, while much more progress has been made in rebuilding the more prosperous sections of the city. New Orleans still lacks a stable work force and many sectors, including education, healthcare and housing, are undergoing privatization. Even if housing is rebuilt, people cannot return to live in New Orleans while steady employment with a living wage and a solid infrastructure are not available.
In reaction to the corruption of the government and business responses to the aftermath of Katrina and the neglect of the city’s inhabitants, much activism has emerged. Community based political groups have developed in New Orleans to demand action from the city to rectify the inequalities in the recovery process. These groups, connected with others across the country, are creating what Professor Katz calls, ‘countertopography’ of activisms working to interrogate the politics and policies that undermine the social wage not only in New Orleans, but throughout the U.S.
About the Speaker
Cindi Katz is a renowned urban geographer, award winning author, and professor of geography in Environmental Psychology and Women’s Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Professor Katz’s areas of study include the social production and reproduction of space, place and nature, the knowledge of politics, children and the environment, and the consequences of global economic restructuring for everyday life. Currently, Professor Katz is doing research on the intertwined spaces of homeland and home-based security, and a project on activism, social reproduction, and the enduring effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Professor Katz has published many works throughout her career in journals such as Society and Space, Signs, Antipode, Social Text, Social Justice, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Cultural Geographies, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Gender, Place and Culture, and Feminist Studies. She is also the author of Growing up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives (2004), which describes how globalization and development affect the lives, experiences and growth of children in both New York City and a village in Sudan. Growing up Global won the Association of American Geographers Meridian Award in 2004. Professor Katz was also the co-editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly (2004-08), Full Circles: Geographies of Women Over the Life Course (1993) and Life’s Work: Geographies of Social Reproduction (2004).
Also, Professor Katz has received many honors including a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a women’s studies scholarship in residence at West Virginia University. Professor Katz holds an A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. in geography from Clark University.
Hurricane Impact Data: http://www.gnocdc.org/impact.html
State of Policy and Progress (January 2008): http://www.gnocdc.org/NOLAIndex/ESNOLAIndex.pdf
Hurricane Katrina Information Guide: http://www.thrall.org/katrina/#statistics
Cindi Katz Biography: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/che/cerg/research_team/cindi_katz_index.htm