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Law and Catastrophe$
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Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas, and Martha Merrill Umphrey

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780804756839

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804756839.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM STANFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.stanford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Stanford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in SSO for personal use.date: 20 September 2021

Catastrophe: Plowing Up the Ground of Reason

Catastrophe: Plowing Up the Ground of Reason

(p.19) Catastrophe: Plowing Up the Ground of Reason
Law and Catastrophe

Linda Ross Meyer

Stanford University Press

This chapter explores how modern law strives to gain dominion over catastrophe; how it attempts to subdue, domesticate, and colonize it. Specifically, it shows how law works to master catastrophe through its standard responses to disorder—through strategies of anticipation, prevention, and amelioration. Yet as shown through a close reading of the Book of Job, this was not always the case. Historically, catastrophe was conceptualized not simply as refractory to secular law's regulatory techniques but as definitionally beyond law's regulatory domain. Enfolded within the category of “acts of God”—disasters born of an opaque and inaccessible divine logic—catastrophes were viewed as “unforeseeable” events for which, say, an insurer could not be held legally liable. Rather, they were seen as beyond secular law's jurisdiction. Over time this understanding changed. With the ascendancy of liberal jurisprudence, law came to expand its jurisdictional ambit: Catastrophe was no longer seen as beyond the law's power of control but as a challenge to it—a challenge that demanded a legal response. This jurisdictional shift left neither law nor catastrophe intact.

Keywords:   law, catastrophe, anticipation, prevention, amelioration, liberal jurisprudence

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