Catastrophes of the Everyday: Understanding Disaster Reconstruction and Postcolonial Austerity in Puerto Rico

Graduate Research Grant
Grant Year

The fraught disaster recovery that followed both Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the January 2020 earthquakes in Puerto Rico exemplifies how disasters are the result of historical and social processes that exacerbate the disruptive capacity of these events. Even two years after the hurricane, residents of the island’s poorest communities continue to struggle with a multitude of colliding disasters, such as environmental degradation and social marginalization, in addition to the “event” of disaster itself. In such a context, what does it mean to recover, and how can we challenge facile conceptualizations of these processes? How can we understand disaster reconstruction as it unfolds in a context of limited democracy, and how does it impinge on people’s lived realities? This project will explore ethnographically how residents of marginalized communities in Puerto Rico navigate a crumbling economy, the Congress-approved austerity measures implemented as a way of “fixing” said economy, and a fraught, incomplete disaster recovery two years after Hurricane Maria. I will conduct both semi-structured and informal interviews, to better comprehend how these processes of difference and marginality are lived and narrated by residents of Martín Peña. Through a deep ethnographic engagement, this project brings into stark relief the relationship between limited political sovereignty and humanitarian crises, as well as how this socio-political predicament affects people's everyday lives.