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Keywords:

  • decolonization;
  • disaster;
  • Hurricane Katrina;
  • Hurricane Felix;
  • media;
  • New Orleans;
  • Nicaragua

Abstract

Hurricanes Katrina and Felix made landfall in 2005 and 2007 on the Gulf Coast of the US and the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua respectively. Despite many economic, political and cultural differences between these two sites, they share a number of interesting similarities. Their inhabitants are subject to similar modes of racialized Othering and internal colonialism, and both places have vital links with the transnational cultural consciousness that Gilroy referred to as the Black Atlantic. Katrina and Felix also occurred at a time when centralized forms of media are increasingly perceived to be in crisis. This crisis is creating new spaces for the development of alternative ways of knowing, watching and making media. This paper draws on recent literature on decolonization by Mignolo, Escobar, Quijano and others to explore the prospects for decolonizing energies within the new media environment and a context of devastation wrought by neoliberalism and disaster.

This research examines disasters in/and the new media environment, and suggests that activists should understand the distinctions between mainstream (or corporate) and alternative media, between top-down and grassroots media, and between “old” and “new” media, in relational and non-categorical rather than absolute terms. These media realms should be engaged from an awareness of how they interact with and impact upon one another. This research also suggests that disasters must be understood as ongoing and open-ended events embedded within historical, social, cultural, economic and political processes and systems. Media, policymaking and emergency management practices that are informed by an awareness of this complex embedding, and which are therefore able to take a long-term view of the unfolding of disasters, will be best equipped to engage effectively, and in democratically responsive ways, with disasters and in particular with the needs of those populations most vulnerable to their impacts.