Coming To Terms With Slow Catastrophe In Post-Harvey Houston
Houston was struck by three “500-year flood” events within 24 months (2015-2017), including Hurricane Harvey, the largest rainfall event in U.S. history. In this short video presentation I share data from anthropological field research funded by a NSF RAPID grant (#1760400) and discuss how the recent wave of catastrophic flooding has impacted Houstonians’ emotional and epistemic attachments to their homes, neighborhoods and to the city itself. In dialogue with research on disasters that focuses on technopolitical regimes of disaster anticipation and risk mitigation, I offer an analysis of the “affective publics of slow catastrophe” that have emerged in Houston in response to a situation that experts and citizens alike fear represents a “new normal” in the context of climate change. I focus especially on three affective orientations around which floodies are clustering: diluvial individualism (a wounded retreat from public engagement in favor of highly individualized recovery strategies), hydraulic citizenship (an activist political subjectivity oriented around creating better infrastructures of water management) and amphibious acceptance (an emergent affective orientation oriented to learning to live with rather than against floodwater). Although I ultimately argue that amphibious acceptance’s time has not yet come in Houston, the fieldwork suggests that the repetitive experience of catastrophic flooding is changing the affective presence of water in Houston.