Opening the Floodgates on Natural Catastrophes and Social Production

According to Castonguay, both historians and social scientists have linked natural catastrophes to social production such as social structures, human action, and elite discourse. While social structures refer to different levels of social equality/inequality, human action action refers to the creation of human infrastructure, and elite discourse refers to the businesses or the ruling elite who “hide the role of human intervention” during natural disasters.

What Castonguay proposes is an addition to this is, “Popular adjustment to floods gave way to a gradual build-up of vulnerability among the riverine population.” His paper focuses on the St. Francis River and St. Lawrence River, and found evidence in the form of old newspapers and the landscape itself that the St. Francis River was not only already prone to frequent flooding, but also the increased a municipality’s vulnerability via its proximity. Other factors that contributed to the build-up of vulnerability included industrialisation, the construction of buildings for the sake of industrialisation, and the even the construction of dams to control river flow. Yet despite how there was evidence of a connection between the increase of a municipality’s vulnerability and the increase of hydrological modifications and industrial machinery within the vicinity of the river,” “nature” itself nonetheless became a discursive tool for the elite and business owners who had a political and economic stake in industrial order. Thus, over time, even flood management techniques were rendered futile and flawed.

Castonguay’s paper therefore raises questions regarding the relationship between the number of floods and economic activity, where economic activity may serve as the independent variable (x), while the the number of floods is the depend variable (y). What is the tipping point between a “healthy” amount of economic gain and “too much” of it? If Castonguay added graphs to his research, would we see a slope that strengthens his argument in terms of  gradual build-up due to the industrial needs of a municipality? Furthermore, what are the implications of Castonguay’s research on society today? – Especially with the current use of harmful chemicals, the appearance of aquatic invasive species, and the need for biodiversity and native species conservation?

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