HOTB2020 Panel 1.3: Disaster Responses



Panel 1.3: Disaster Responses

“The Implications of Aid in Times of Emergency: Destructive Storms, Climate Change, and Disaster Militarism”

Danielle Crawford (University of California, Santa Cruz)

“The Posthumanities as a Way to Tackle ‘Emergency'”

Christine Daigle (Brock University)

“Attunement as a Response to Climate Emergency”

Trang Dang (Nottingham Trent University)

“(Mis)Reading at High Tide: Emergent Unreadability in an Age of Emergency”

Jessica Holmes (University of Washington)

“The Climate of AIDS: Gentrification, Urgency, and Loss at the End of Nature”

Davy Knittle (University of Pennsylvania)

Q & A

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Note that questions and comments can be intended for individual speakers, the entire panel, or anyone who has posted to the Q&A. Respond directly to a particular question/comment by way of the little “reply” below it. The vertical threadlike lines are there to make it easier to see which part of the discussion (i.e. “thread”) you are taking up. 

16 replies
  1. Matt Morgenstern says:

    Hi Trang, thank you for your presentation, I was especially glad to see VanderMeer’s work in conversation with Morton, Harraway, and Tsing. I have two questions:

    1. I’m wondering how everyday individuals come to “attunement.” Is it something we need to teach through literary and art objects, or is it caused by something else? It seems like it could be an effect of something like Morton’s “hyperobjects,” but in your presentation, I’m not so sure. In other words, do you see “attunement” only as a discursive practice meaningful for environmentalist thinkers, or is it an experience everyone must have?

    2. I appreciated your final remarks on what it means to attune, especially following VanderMeer’s examples. I am curious, though, if you think this ideal could run the risk of being commodified, meaning that “ecological attunement” could be brandished by systems of power and be conscribed to an “wellness” and “self-care” discourse that, while valuable, also profits what some may call a neoliberal ideology? Are there examples from nonfictional and fictional texts you’ve read that may address this? These are questions I’m currently considering in my research.

    • Trang Dang says:

      Hi Matt, thanks very much for your questions. They are both very interesting!

      1. From the standpoint of a literature student, I would say that human attunement to nonhuman worlds can be achieved through arts. As I mentioned near the end of the presentation, Tsing and others made the point about creative writing helping us to imagine the world differently and to hear stories from both human and nonhuman perspectives rather than those told by mainstream media or incessant news that is often depressing and confusing. I think not only literature but also any art objects such as paintings, sculptures, etc. can have the same impact on us. These forms of arts allow us to appreciate the beauty of nonhuman worlds, through which we can connect both internally and externally with them and at the same time acknowledge our interconnection with them. About your question whether attunement is caused by something else, I’m glad you mentioned Morton’s concept of hyperobjects. I think yes attunement can be triggered by the existence and nature of hyperobjects. For example, in the presentation, I mentioned Morton’s point about how we are already ecological. The nonhuman existing both inside and outside us is itself a hyperobject. The nonhuman is so massively distributed across time and space and within our bodies that we cannot shake it off. So in that sense attunement is an acknowledgement of this, which should then influence and change our behaviour towards, and our treatment of, nonhuman worlds, and which can be brought about by slowing down, focusing our attention on things around us, and appreciate them (rather than speeding up because this is the very language of capitalism – progress, immediacy, etc). And so attunement is not just a concept useful for scholars to engage with but something that we can all achieve through ways that I have outlined in the presentation.

      2. I think that capitalism would jump at every opportunity to commodify anything (see how this system has already commodified the idea of sustainability). But I think the act of attunement can prevent capitalism from preying on any ideal whatsoever to accumulate more economic and socio-political power. The reason is that when people truly attune to the things around them, they already recognise their very entanglement and interdependence with nonhuman worlds and this important recognition allows them to see the threats that commodification of ecological attunement poses towards nonhuman worlds and to fight against it. So ecological attunement in itself is form of resistance against neoliberal discourse and ideology. In terms of fictional texts that would address this, the first things that came to my mind are Margaret Atwood’s the MaddAddam trilogy (2013) and probably Nicola Barker’s H(a)ppy (2018), although the second novel is not so much about ecological issues but more about how technological capitalism controls and capitalises on every aspect of human life. Regarding nonfictional texts, do you mean theoretical texts? If so, I think Daniel Cunha, Bruno Latour, and Jason Moore’s work on the relationship between capitalism/capitalist modernity and Nature would be a fruitful read regarding the exploitative nature of capitalism.

      Hope this has answered your questions!

  2. Christine Daigle says:

    Thanks to my co-presenters Danielle, Trang, Jessica, and Davy. I see an important connecting thread between our papers: the necessity to re-imagine (re-vision). What is a crisis? What is “emergency”? How can we “read” those and recognize them as such? Must we resort to action/activism, creation, moving about the world differently, expressing and thinking it also differently? I am thinking of Bart’s question in the introductory video of the conference: how do we repurpose the humanities and how do we go from emergency to emergence? Shifting our imaginaries, be they cultural, social, political, is a tremendous task. We have each explored specific examples of various ways of experimenting with new thinking. I guess one of my pressing questions is how do we take this beyond the sphere of academic discussion?

    • Danielle Crawford, University of California, Santa Cruz says:

      Hi Christine, thanks for starting this conversation. I really like the connective thread of re-imagining that you found. This seems like a very generative place to start thinking through the intersections between our different presentations. You raise a very important question about how our different re-imaginings can be taken beyond academia. Although there are many ways to approach this, in the case of my talk, thinking through how literary and humanities-based studies of disaster aid can be put in conversation with law and policy would be one way to go about this. In a larger sense, I think it’s important to consider how the environmental humanities can both inform and be informed by public-facing entities, like climate change policy, that reach beyond academic discourse. Also, the points you bring up in your presentation about re-imagining how we publish, disseminate, and circulate information are all very crucial for how we can bridge that divide.

      One question that I had after your talk was about your use of the term “postdisciplinary.” How does postdisciplinary fit into conceptions of the posthuman? Also, do you see postdisciplinary research as distinct or diverging from interdisciplinary research? Thanks for your talk. I really enjoyed it!

      • Christine Daigle says:

        Thanks Danielle,
        about “postdisciplinary”: I really think that disciplinary thinking (including multi-, inter-, or trans-) stifles our thinking and prevents us from coming up with new ways of understanding the world and ourselves and potentially design solutions to our problems that could work. I think multi-, inter-, or transdisciplinarity retains the notion of discipline in a way that continues to compartmentalize problems. For example poverty: philosophy, economics, sociology, and health sciences each think about that problem from a disciplinary angle, using their own methods and theories to tackle the existing problem. Even if you put a philosopher and a health scientist in conversation and make them work on a project, you are dealing with an interdisciplinary setting (where each informs the other of how they deal with it) or at best you have a transdisciplinary setting in which the health scientist and philosopher manage to really integrate each other’s approach and work jointly on a solution. That still misses the point that poverty exceeds any disciplinary approach or combination of disciplines we can think. To tackle it as a theme and to bring to it our own expertise but without any attachment whatsoever to our set of theories or methods may be more generative. That would be leaving disciplinary biases behind, what I take postdisciplinarity to mean.
        Thanks for the question!

        • Davy Knittle says:

          Thanks for posing this question, Christine! Something that I found so generative about both of your papers — Christine and Danielle — was your interest in locating the repurposing of the humanities on particular scales. Danielle, in your paper and in your response to Christine’s question, you make evident that the two literary texts you discuss model skepticism about disaster aid as a tool of militarization. And Christine, your talk asks us to consider academic institutions differently, and to repurpose the university in the service of repurposing the humanities. I have a question for each of you, which I’d like to ask by way of addressing your question, Christine.

          In the space of the university, one way that these questions go beyond the sphere of academic discussion is in the classroom. Christine — something that struck me about the Posthumanities Research Institute workshop you described is that it seemed to me that it really focused on participants’ ability to learn. There’s such a strong connection between the call you issue for public and non-traditional forms of scholarly participation and teaching that bravely addresses the many ways that students learn. (One of the problems with the traditional conference paper format being that, although we are trained to receive information in the form of the academic talk, few of us learn best that way.) What role does pedagogy play in reformulating scholarly participation beyond “the sphere of academic discussion”? How might we rethink the boundary between (and hierarchy of) research and teaching as part of how we rethink humanities scholarship and where and how our shared projects of re-imagination appear?

          Danielle, as you mention in your response to Christine’s question, one intervention your paper offers is an invitation to rethink the goals of disaster aid policy and legislation. As I was watching and listening to your paper, I kept thinking about how your critique of disaster aid might be put in dialogue with calls to defund and disband the police. If one element of the call to defund the police is the demand that governmental administrative functions must separate aid from violence, how might that argument help support the persuasive case you make that military disaster aid often facilitates further militarization? How might a public conversation about restructuring government aid on the scale of police departments shape a re-examination of military disaster aid?

          Thanks to both of you for your papers!

          • Danielle Crawford, University of California, Santa Cruz says:

            Hi Davy, thanks for your excellent question. My critique of disaster militarism can definitely be put in conversation with calls to defund the police. I think this line of connection is especially apparent when you consider the overt militarization of the police—their use of military equipment and weapons and the militarized culture and training within police academies, all of which contributes to and escalates police brutality and violence. As you state in your question, there is an important line of convergence here that can be addressed through a larger framework that grapples with how we might rethink and restructure government aid at both the level of the military and police. I do hope to explore this connection further in my research. Thanks again for your question!

  3. Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

    Great presentations, everyone! On a completely different note, Davy, I was interested in whether you think we’re going to start to see efforts comparable to ACT UP’s in connection with the current pandemic. I find it rather extraordinary that more people in the U.S. have died than in all American wars since World War II, but we don’t see people coming together in rage over this crisis (or at least the stories aren’t being shared in the media) to demand that the federal government get its criminally negligent act together. Maybe everyone is just hunkering down praying for Biden to win, but, in addition to protests over racial injustice, you would expect people dumping their friends’ and relatives’ ashes on the White House lawn now, etc. The closest thing I’ve seen to this is a New York Times story about an Arizona woman who used her father’s obituary to call out “the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.” But, of course, she’s just one person, not a movement.

    • Nicholas Reich says:


      This talk is so very important and well-done. Thank you for sharing your time in this way.

      Like Bart, I’m also interested in environmentalist modes of ‘acting up,’ specifically as they touch queer/trans histories of gentrification, race, class, toxicity, and environment. But I’m wondering, more specifically, if it’s possible that environmentalist versions of acting up sometimes serve accidentally / incidentally as a kind of cultural gentrification displacing queer/trans bodies and lifeways outside metropoles and otherwise large built environments. For example, can desire as acting up serve environmentalist ends, obscenely and disruptively?

      Would love to hear both your and Bart’s thoughts on my talk over at 7.5 Queer Ecologies & Ecosexualities.

      • Davy Knittle says:

        Hi Nicholas,

        Thanks so much for this question, and for your own paper, which I tremendously enjoyed!

        This is such interesting framing – Wojnarowicz is engaging to me because I read him as making an environmentalist argument, but as disidentifying with legible environmental discourse. Strains of environmental discourse that argue (often implicitly) that what’s most urgently at stake in the management of U.S. climate futures is the ability of white cis-heterosexual normative families to continue to maintain resource-intensive suburban lives absolutely run the risk of using environmental advocacy to further the marginalization of people outside a white cis-het frame. Something I’m always curious about – and which I’d be interested to get your take on – is that between the urban spaces I’m thinking about and the rural context you’re thinking about, is the 54 or so percent of people in the U.S. who live in the suburbs. Wojnarowicz has a critique in Close to the Knives of what he calls the “Universe of the Neatly Clipped Lawn,” which clearly connects suburban land management to the promotion of normative ideology. Exposing the relationship to environment inherent in normative suburban ideology (as well as in metronormative urban orientations) and advocating for different relations between human sexuality and gender and the non-human as integral to exposing the implicit sexed and gendered relations of carbon-intensive resource practices and the social systems in which they are embedded strikes me as a shared investment of our papers here (and perhaps our archives more generally)!

        • Nicholas Reich says:

          Thanks, Davy, for this thoughtful response! I think you’re totally right, even if I find the suburban-scape completely vexing 🙂

          If you haven’t already, you might check out Karen Tongson’s book Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries ( While it doesn’t take up environmentalisms in a sustained way, Tongson’s book performs a spacial/geographical analysis that might be pretty useful to what you’re describing here: namely, the analytical gray area between urban and rural queer/trans studies.

          • Davy Knittle says:

            Hi Nicholas,

            Thanks for this! I love Tongson’s book (and I also love her new book, Why Karen Carpenter Matters, which came out last year, and which is more of an academic memoir about negotiating U.S. suburban space and its transnational reception in the Philippines). As much as I, too, find the suburbs vexing, there’s much more to think about in that geographic context than I’m always willing to acknowledge. (On that topic, though, I found Clayton Howard’s The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac: The Politics of Sexual Privacy in Northern California ( to do a lot of helpful work to connect metronormative (and non-metronormative) queer life in the Bay Area in the mid-20th century to a different form of queer normativity (and the use of suburban privacy to disguise queer anti-normativity) in suburban space.

    • Jessica Hurley, George Mason University says:

      Hi Bart, I can’t speak to larger national movements but ACT UP Philly, at least, has itself been protesting civic inaction in relation to the pandemic (see for instance this recent action in partnership with Applied Mechanics theater company: The use of body bags speaks back to their own history of protest in an interesting way and definitely links the two pandemics.

    • Davy Knittle says:

      Hi Bart! Thanks so much for this question, and for all of your work to make the conference possible and provide us with this opportunity to be in conversation with one another!

      One context in which I see rage over the mismanagement of COVID-19 manifesting as advocacy is over the right to housing and the criminalization of homelessness, in a response that makes evident the co-articulation of anti-Blackness and the lack of access to basic public health resources. In Philadelphia, protests over the racialization of housing inequality have manifested in several encampments that have been founded and maintained over the past several months. These encampments, and the advocacy of the folks involved with them, argue that the right to public space, and specifically to green space in the city, is inextricable from the right to housing – similar protests are happening in other cities, specifically around housing access.

      In dialogue with the case I make about Wojnarowicz, I think there’s a similar case to be made here about the kinds of use of space and environmental priorities sanctioned by a normative idea of urban development. At stake in these protests in Philly are questions of how open space in the city should be used, who should get to control it, and how its use is tied to the city’s defaulting on its responsibility to provide basic resources to its residents. The protests make clear that housing is both a public health and an environmental issue, a similar set of connections to those that I think Wojnarowicz makes about the environmental and public health stakes of the rights of people with AIDS as they are compromised by the prioritization of urban development.

      Here’s some recent coverage of the advocating around housing justice happening in Philly:

  4. Ariel Kroon, University of Alberta says:

    Hi Christine, I enjoyed your presentation immensely, and found myself nodding along vigorously at several points. I agree that the current publishing model in the humanities is clunky and moves at a snails’ pace, and that we in the humanities need to be more adamant about creating and using open-access venues for publication (along with “nontraditional” models of dissemination).

    Are you familiar with Dr Hannah MacGregor’s podcast “Secret Feminist Agenda”? She is working with Wilfrid Laurier Press on an open peer-review process for it, piloting the podcast format as a method of scholarly output. I would highly, highly recommend checking it out. I find myself frustrated with the slowness of traditional publishing especially when confronted with crisis – as you mention, much of the work on covid-19 is generated in the form of blog posts, or even Twitter threads. I like your phrase “academic cacophony” – it is very apt.

    • Christine Daigle says:

      Thank you Ariel,
      I heard that podcast mentioned but since it was part of the “cacophony”, I did not have time to check it out. I will now.

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