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Unprecedented natures? An anatomy of the Chennai floods

Arabindoo, P; (2017) Unprecedented natures? An anatomy of the Chennai floods. City 10.1080/13604813.2016.1239410. (In press). Green open access

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Between November and December 2015, the southern Indian city of Chennai (alongside the northern coastal regions in the state of Tamil Nadu) experienced torrential rains with unanticipated flood consequences. Notoriously known as India’s “water scarcity capital”, instead of the proverbial ‘poor monsoons’, a series of low-pressure depressions with ‘record-breaking’ rainfall submerged the city rapidly, as homes and apartments flooded, communications were cut, and transportation came to a standstill including the closure of the airport. Even as environmental activists took the state and its allied actors (in the development and planning sector) to task over what they considered was a deliberate and reckless ‘urbanisation of disaster’, the state sought refuge in the argument that this was an unprecedented (global) weather anomaly. Recognising the need for a more robust (post) disaster discussion, this paper offers an anatomy of the floods that begs a broader rethink of twenty-first century urban disasters and argues that the current discourse offered by the social science of disaster is insufficient in unravelling the complex spatial and environmental histories behind disasters. It goes beyond setting up a mere critique of capitalist urbanisation to offer a cogent debunking of the deeply engrained assumptions about the unprecedented nature of disasters. It does so by dismantling three commonly invoked arguments that transgress any kind of environmental common sense: 1. The 100-year flood fallacy, 2. The ensuing debates around environmental knowledges and subjectivities, and 3. The need to spatially rescale (and regionalise) the rationale of the ‘urbanisation of disaster’. It concludes by raising concerns over the persistence of a resilience discourse, one that relies on the will of the ‘expert’ underwriting not only a non-specific techno-scientific approach but also perpetuates a politicisation of risk that shows little promise of accommodating new epistemologies that are socio-ecologically progressive.

Type: Article
Title: Unprecedented natures? An anatomy of the Chennai floods
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2016.1239410
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2016.1239410
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2016 Taylor & Francis. All rights reserved. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in City on 17 January 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604813.2016.1239410
Keywords: Floods, environmental knowledges and subjectivities, unprecedented, urbanisation of disaster, risk and resilience
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1524130
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