An Interview with Rebecca Solnit

Paradise Found: PW talks with Rebecca Solnit

by Parul Sehgal — Publishers Weekly, 6/29/2009

In A Paradise in Hell, Solnit surveys responses to disasters and discovers that people finding meaning—even exhilaration—in healing and rebuilding their communities.

What constitutes a disaster? Does the current economic crisis qualify?

It’s a question of scale. Disaster scholars distinguish an emergency—an incident such as a building burning down—from a disaster, which is a regional disruption like Hurricane Katrina. Of course, there are always complications—9/11 directly affected a small part of lower Manhattan, but disrupted the global economy and was used to make major foreign policy shifts. Economic crises can resemble sudden physical disasters—notably in the questioning of the status quo: the Argentinean economic crash of 2001 functioned like a disaster in catalyzing positive change, including a rebirth of civil society. Iceland has had a similar rebirth since its October 2008 economic crash, and in this country, we are seeing interesting improvisation and radicalization around the depression, and I expect we’ll see a lot more.

Why do you think survivors of disasters are depicted as victims even when (as you point out) their testimonies argue so vigorously to the contrary?

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