How Not to Learn From Catastrophe: Habermas, Critical Theory and the "Catastrophization" of Political Life

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This essay conceptualizes the intersections between contemporary catastrophes and political life by exploring how narratives of catastrophe mediate discursive and objective processes of catastrophization. It argues for the need to counteract catastrophization, a discursive and objective political phenomenon, by not only re-cognizing how catastrophes impinge on political life but by offering a more critical understanding of this intersection. The essay thus calls for the politicization of catastrophe as a response to the "catastrophization of political life." Apropos of these concerns, it engages with Habermas in order to explore how his political theory and interventions illustrate important aspects of the intersections between narratives of catastrophe and contemporary political life, say, how discursive catastrophization leads to the misrecognition of objective modalities of catastrophe. Overall, this essay offers an account of how to conceptualize catastrophe and catastrophization in order to articulate the broad contours of a political theory of catastrophe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-765
Number of pages28
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Habermas
  • catastrophe
  • catastrophization
  • crisis
  • critical theory

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