Disasters as meshworks: migratory birds and the enlivening of Doñana’s Toxic Spill



The aim of this article is to revisit disasters as materially enlivened events. The sociology of disasters has usually rested upon two assumptions. First, that disasters are phenomena circumscribed in time and space. They are geographically situated and time-specific, thus their effects can be controlled and compared. And second, that the main actors involved in disasters are humans and institutions, the basic units of sociological research and theory. These principles, taken together, help in converting disaster into objects for cultural inquiry, but at the expense of diluting their material surplus. Based on the work of Tim Ingold, and drawing on the case of the Aznalcóllar ecological disaster in Doñana, one of the most damaging environmental disasters in the history of Spain, we propose to define disasters as meshworks in order to fully grasp the vibrant ontology of disasters. More specifically, by focusing on the role played by migratory birds in the enacting of the disaster, we argue that disasters are dynamic realities, difficult to localize and always distributed along disparate scales and actors. Moreover, disasters have a dual reality, unfolding actually and virtually at once – and therefore comprising a form of cosmopolitics rather than conforming to classical political imaginations. Finally, our larger point is to take disasters as opportunities to rethink our ways of living together.

Rodríguez-Giralt, I.; Tirado, F.; Tironi, M. (2014). Disasters as meshworks: migratory birds and the enlivening of Doñana’s Toxic Spill. The Sociological Review, 62, 38-60.

Francisco Tirado (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Manuel Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)