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The Politics of Risk: An Analysis of Endangered City

Autor:   •  July 7, 2019  •  Research Paper  •  2,557 Words (11 Pages)  •  244 Views

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Professor Valeria Procupez

Urban Citizenship In Latin America

14 May 2019

The Politics of Risk: An Analysis of Endangered City

Why I chose this book: Pervasive danger has been a defining characteristic of Bogotá for decades. As danger in these cities has decreased in recent years, a sense of endangerment, the general sense of being threatened, has remained. This distinction between danger and endangerment  holds great significance for the politics of cities in the Global South, and Austin Zeiderman’s Endangered City provides a much needed analysis of how a sense of endangerment guides political processes in Latin America. As cities such as Bogotá continue to advance, Zeiderman’s text will serve as a unique insight into how governments structured around mitigating natural risks work to shape the relationship between citizens and the government.

In his book Endangered City, anthropologist Austin Zeiderman analyzes the politics of security and risk in Bogotá. Zeiderman makes use of extensive fieldwork consisting of interviews, archival research, and visual observations throughout Bogotá’s urban peripheries in order to illustrate how in recent years government in Bogotá has become structured around the concept of mitigating risk for citizens. Zeiderman argues that this structure of government provides an avenue through which the poor are able to claim rights to citizenship, and the state is able to legitimate its presence.

Early on in the text, Zeiderman reveals the theoretical basis for his argument.  He begins by citing German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who claims that the “concept of ‘risk’” can be viewed as a determinant of “world-historical change”(2). Using the concept of risk as a determinant, Beck breaks up modernity into two distinct periods, arguing that the emergence of different notions of risk is what separates the two. Specifically, Beck argues that first modernity was the period in which “ risk became an object of scientific assessment and technological control” and second modernity occured when types of risk emerged that could “no longer be known or managed”(2). Between these two periods, Beck notes, is the emergence of tools such as insurance that allowed for “calculated assessments about the likelihood of future harm”(2). Echoing similar sentiments to Beck is his British contemporary Anthony Giddens, who writes that the notion of risk is what “distinguishes European industrial modernity from medieval feudalism and ‘modern’ from ‘traditional’ societies”(2). Clearly, Beck and Giddens believe that the emergence of different notions of risk are what separate the modern from the old. Taking this argument a step further is Michel Foucault, who writes that risk marks a “major epochal transformation” that reshaped dominant notions of government(3). Foucault argues that around 1800, political notions like sovereignty and discipline were overtaken by the notion of security and risk management, governing according to “predictive calculations” of the “likelihood of future harm”(3). This emphasis on risk marked the transition to a new form of government based around notions of liberalism(3). Zeiderman uses the above arguments as a theoretical basis for Endangered City, agreeing that the emergence of risk politics is an extremely significant notion that reshaped urban governmental structures.


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