Through an analysis of the influence of Cold War–era research and funding structures on modes of disaster research, Cécile Stehrenberger explains how and why the standard research approach to disasters is not perfectly translatable to studying the Covid-19 pandemic. She also speculates on how more recent turns in the study of slow disasters can pave the way to more policy-relevant work grounded in rigorous and ethical social science. By incorporating theoretical understandings of racial capitalism and gender inequality, for example, Stehrenberger suggests that rather than leaning into a rigid model of scientific research, disaster social science should recognize and embrace its potential for activist policy transformation.
Cécile Stephanie Stehrenberger
Cécile Stephanie Stehrenberger, PhD, is an assistant professor for historical and comparative science and technology studies at the University of Wuppertal, Germany. She received her PhD from the University of Zurich (Switzerland), for a dissertation on Spanish gender and colonial politics during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and held research and teaching positions at the University of Zurich and the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany). She was a fellow of the Max-Weber-Center at the University of Erfurt and a visiting scholar at the Disaster Research Center of the University of Delaware, the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi (India). Her research interests include the history of disaster (science), the history of Cold War social science, colonialism, and feminist science studies. She is currently working on research projects on the history of “social science disaster research,” the history of “toxic waste” in West Africa, and the nuclear incident in Palomares (1966).