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Culpability, Social Triage, and Structural Violence in the Aftermath of Katrina

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2012

William Paul Simmons
Arizona State University,
Monica J. Casper
Arizona State University,


Hurricane Katrina and its effects are often talked about in terms of what has been made visible, as if the hurricane swept through and stripped away our structural blinders along with the levees, revealing social disparities within. Here, we focus instead on whom and what Katrina and its aftermath have rendered invisible. We are concerned with how the seen and the not seen have influenced the ways the purported tabula rasa of New Orleans has been (re)constructed and marked since 2005. We engage with recent debates in political science about power, agency, structure, and culpability, arguing that efforts to prioritize the pursuit of culpability over critique in power analyses, such as the approach advocated by Steven Lukes, risk perpetuating structural violence. We employ the concepts of an ocular ethic and social triage to understand why the storm of the century that was supposed to reveal all has in the end left much concealed, with shocking levels of human devastation unaddressed. Only through careful excavation of the ruins can we begin to comprehend the sedimented inequality and layers of vulnerability that structure violence.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

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