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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Amel Ahmed

Second Advisor

Frederic C. Schaffer

Third Advisor

Kevin Rozario

Fourth Advisor

Jillian Schwedler

Subject Categories

American Politics | Comparative Politics | Environmental Studies | Political Theory | Social and Cultural Anthropology


In the face of such complex, urgent threats of fires, floods, and increasingly powerful storms, many scholars warn that climate change puts us on the path to a technocratic, “rule of experts” for the sake of survival. Others warn that climate change will actually undermine the authority of governments, as they become increasingly unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens. In this dissertation, I draw from interviews, archival research, and ethnographic observations in the US and Oman to examine how power and historical context shape the way that these societies politicize natural disasters. These two countries have fundamental differences in terms of their state-society relations. Yet responses to recent tropical cyclones demonstrate that each country manifests similar contention in the face of disaster. Contemporary Americans and Omanis treat large-scale natural disasters as unplanned spectacles of interdependence, attention-grabbing symbols of their nation’s fate in an emergency. Officials and dissidents alike are seizing upon the public’s attention to these symbols, competing to anchor them to their own agendas. For example, disasters are treated as “revelations” about the legitimacy of government authorities, or “lessons” about public values other than safety from disaster, such as social justice and religious piety. Such disaster-contention in the US and Oman is a relatively new phenomena. It emerged in the early- and mid-twentieth century by virtue of the spread of new communication technologies that made it possible to conceive of “national emergencies,” and by an expanded vision for government and civic responsibility, making such emergencies problems for the government to solve. I argue that this record of contention shows that disasters are not partisan to technocratic order, nor are they conveyor belts to chaos. As the most attention-grabbing manifestations of climate change are treated as spectacles of interdependence, they provide opportunities for political entrepreneurs of many stripes, including nationalist and democratic movements that deride the rule of experts. The political consequences of climate change are therefore contingent upon the historically constructed nature of interpretive frameworks, like “citizenship” and “national emergency,” and how officials and dissidents utilize them to give political meaning to calamity.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License