Disaster Assistance and Legal Accountability: Care and Surveillance

Special Issue Cassandra’s Curse: The Law and Foreseeable Future Disasters

ISBN: 978-1-78560-299-3, eISBN: 978-1-78560-298-6

ISSN: 1059-4337

Publication date: 17 October 2015


Extreme events are the occasion for many people’s encounters with climate change. Though causation is complex and no one event is directly attributable to climate change, when we consider Cassandra, we can consider what people encounter in assistance after an extreme event. This chapter takes the case of assistance to displaced people after Katrina to explore how care and surveillance were intertwined. Methods include analysis of government documents as well as interviews. When we consider assistance people receive, we often focus on the intended assistance and how it worked or did not. Evaluation is difficult, not least because criteria for determining what it means to work are uncertain. However, if we include the process of gaining assistance as part of the experience, we broaden concerns from the instrumental outcomes to the mixed messages people get in assistance. Assistance appears in a context, where the most vulnerable people have reasons to mistrust government and nonprofits, and where in the United States assistance has come intertwined with supervisory rules, a focus on getting people to work, and a need to manage criminal histories. Trust in government may be limited, emergency care can operate outside ordinary legal frameworks when providers are new, and legal accountability for assistance may be experienced as confining, despite caregivers’ intent.




I am grateful for support from the National Science Foundation, including SES-1051408 and CMMI-0555117. I am also grateful for comments on earlier drafts from the editors of Studies in Law, Politics and Society, including the editors of the special issue. Lorita Daniels and Anne Zobell assisted with final research.


Sterett, S. (2015), "Disaster Assistance and Legal Accountability: Care and Surveillance", Special Issue Cassandra’s Curse: The Law and Foreseeable Future Disasters (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 68), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 95-123. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1059-433720150000068004

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