What’s natural about natural disasters?

Panel of CU-Boulder social scientists to take timely look at floods, fires and superstorms

In the wake of the September 2013 floods, Nebraska Task Force One conducts search and rescue operations in the hard-hit mountain town of Jamestown. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA.

Natural disasters like those that struck Colorado and the East Coast in the last year are the focus of a Social Sciences Today Forum at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The event, featuring four experts, is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 14, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Hellems 201.

Four members of the CU-Boulder social science faculty will speak about natural disasters for about 10 minutes each and then answer questions. The panelists are:

Nicholas Flores, professor of economics.

Payson Sheets, professor of anthropology.

Kathleen Tierney, professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center, Institute of Behavioral Science.

Emmanuel David, assistant professor of women and gender studies.

Sheets will be introducing a new concept: the “supernatural disaster” that presents people’s understanding of extreme environmental events prior to the past couple centuries of scientific explanations.

“For instance, earthquakes for the Maya were caused by the Skybearers because of human misbehavior. Tsunamis in the Northwest Coast of North America were caused by the battle between the sea god and the sky god, and after the earthquake people would climb to high ground,” Sheets said.

David said he will discuss his contention that natural disasters are far from being “great equalizers” and are not experienced in uniform ways. ”

Drawing on the fields of gender studies and disaster sociology, this presentation examines the gendered consequences of extreme events, which provide a lens through which gender inequalities in everyday life become visible.”

The Social Sciences Today Forum, a monthly series, is designed to help the public gain broader perspectives and deeper understanding of human society and how individuals relate to the community and one another. Natural disasters is one example of such a topic. In its inaugural session, the forum focused on immigration.

This forum brings the knowledge and expertise of social science faculty to the greater community and allows the community to ask questions of leading scholars.

The Hellems Arts and Sciences building is on the CU-Boulder main campus and is highlighted in this campus map.

November 2013


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