Event Title

Critical Physical Geography As Monism: The NFIP As A Case Study For Merging Realist And Idealist Perspectives Of Catastrophe Risk Finance

Location

SU 215

Start Date

19-4-2019 10:20 AM

Department

Geography & Environmental Studies

Session

Session 6

Description

Reinsurers, municipalities, and recently the National Flood Insurance Program increasingly turn to capital market mechanisms to cover severe losses from flood events. The catastrophe bond is such a tool; an outcome of modeling epistemology and the legacy of 1980s market-environmentalism. Consequently, a handful of reputable risk modeling firms compete for the clientship of large reinsurers, revealing a profitable demand for customized risk management products. Although the methods of finance and modeling practitioners are perceived as convoluted or inaccessible, this is strategically illusory. Yet, geographers often reproduce this illusion and preclude meaningful investigation of those worlds. This paper visits the work of lesser-known 20 th century Neo-Kantian Marxist economist Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who posited that the separation of product and worker (alienation), in its true form, occurs not as labor abstraction but rather in the moment of exchange. Sohn-Rethel’s radical position was that value abstraction is not simply an imbrication of knowing and being, but in fact the origin of pure reason— inaugurated with the invention of Greek coinage. Sohn- Rethel’s theory is a well-known misinterpretation of Marx— however, his attempt to ground the Kantian ideal by the real capitalist superstructure remains celebrated for its innovation. Thus, inspired by Kordela's (2017) analysis of Sohn-Rethel and his theory of realabstraktion, this paper describes catastrophe bond production as an "epistemontology", wherein otherwise scientifically disparate hazards are consciously rendered commensurate by modeling practitioners, finance practitioners, and insurers for securitization. At the point of exchange, the catastrophe risk model, as a fetishized commodity, entails physical scientists’ unconscious reinforcement of an accumulative market rationale. Such conversion-through-commensuration is necessary for physical science knowledge to be useful for insurers and finance practitioners, who possess their own knowledge-belief systems as well. This research seeks to contribute to the body of critical financialization studies, particularly those concerned with the abstraction of carbon and natural hazards as valued, monetized assets alienated from their forms. Moreover, the critical literature pertaining to catastrophe risk geographies exhibits a duality as assemblage or political economic frameworks, operationalized using social constructivist and historical materialist methodologies, respectively. Independently, neither appropriately characterizes the complex, contingent historical lineage of catastrophe risk management, especially for flooding in the United States. Thus, an opportunity exists for geographers to apply monist frameworks that contextualize belief systems and micro-processual relations amongst human and non-human actors within a broader, material political economy. Proponents of new materialism and subsequently critical physical geography (CPG) have initiated this conversation. Using CPG to interpret US flood modeling, this paper proposes a "capacious" historical materialist analysis of the NFIP, from inception through its August 2018 FloodSmart Re catastrophe bond offering. The goal of this paper is to lay the groundwork for future phenomenological study of alienation amongst physical scientists, finance practitioners, insurers, and climate risk mitigation products.

Comments

Alex Peimer and Dennis Grammenos are the faculty sponsors of this project.

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Apr 19th, 10:20 AM

Critical Physical Geography As Monism: The NFIP As A Case Study For Merging Realist And Idealist Perspectives Of Catastrophe Risk Finance

SU 215

Reinsurers, municipalities, and recently the National Flood Insurance Program increasingly turn to capital market mechanisms to cover severe losses from flood events. The catastrophe bond is such a tool; an outcome of modeling epistemology and the legacy of 1980s market-environmentalism. Consequently, a handful of reputable risk modeling firms compete for the clientship of large reinsurers, revealing a profitable demand for customized risk management products. Although the methods of finance and modeling practitioners are perceived as convoluted or inaccessible, this is strategically illusory. Yet, geographers often reproduce this illusion and preclude meaningful investigation of those worlds. This paper visits the work of lesser-known 20 th century Neo-Kantian Marxist economist Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who posited that the separation of product and worker (alienation), in its true form, occurs not as labor abstraction but rather in the moment of exchange. Sohn-Rethel’s radical position was that value abstraction is not simply an imbrication of knowing and being, but in fact the origin of pure reason— inaugurated with the invention of Greek coinage. Sohn- Rethel’s theory is a well-known misinterpretation of Marx— however, his attempt to ground the Kantian ideal by the real capitalist superstructure remains celebrated for its innovation. Thus, inspired by Kordela's (2017) analysis of Sohn-Rethel and his theory of realabstraktion, this paper describes catastrophe bond production as an "epistemontology", wherein otherwise scientifically disparate hazards are consciously rendered commensurate by modeling practitioners, finance practitioners, and insurers for securitization. At the point of exchange, the catastrophe risk model, as a fetishized commodity, entails physical scientists’ unconscious reinforcement of an accumulative market rationale. Such conversion-through-commensuration is necessary for physical science knowledge to be useful for insurers and finance practitioners, who possess their own knowledge-belief systems as well. This research seeks to contribute to the body of critical financialization studies, particularly those concerned with the abstraction of carbon and natural hazards as valued, monetized assets alienated from their forms. Moreover, the critical literature pertaining to catastrophe risk geographies exhibits a duality as assemblage or political economic frameworks, operationalized using social constructivist and historical materialist methodologies, respectively. Independently, neither appropriately characterizes the complex, contingent historical lineage of catastrophe risk management, especially for flooding in the United States. Thus, an opportunity exists for geographers to apply monist frameworks that contextualize belief systems and micro-processual relations amongst human and non-human actors within a broader, material political economy. Proponents of new materialism and subsequently critical physical geography (CPG) have initiated this conversation. Using CPG to interpret US flood modeling, this paper proposes a "capacious" historical materialist analysis of the NFIP, from inception through its August 2018 FloodSmart Re catastrophe bond offering. The goal of this paper is to lay the groundwork for future phenomenological study of alienation amongst physical scientists, finance practitioners, insurers, and climate risk mitigation products.