Catástrofes y Estado: Lecciones de la historia sísmica chilena

Transformations Conference, Santiago, Chile. 15-18 October, 2019

Catastrophes are usually seen as a threat to a country’s stability and progress. On the contrary, in this article I show that, in the Chilean case, catastrophes and the process of dealing with their consequences have unleash mechanisms of state-building similar to what has been argued for the case of Western Europe and the effects of war. Catastrophes are similar to wars in that they constitute a threat to the population; and also, because they both leave destruction and victims in their wake. Since the basic role of the state is to control internal and external threats protecting their citizens from harm, both wars and catastrophes demand state´s intervention. Paraphrasing Tilly, we can say that “states make catastrophe and catastrophe makes states.” On one side, the sociology of risk allows us to understand that catastrophes are not an external event but one created by society, and specifically, by decisions taken by states. But also, I show that both risk management and the process of dealing with disaster´s consequences can help “make states”. In my example, it is clear that earthquakes have caused the Chilean state to organize, to improve the capacity of its administration, to strengthen its control and establish new relationships with Chilean society. Overall, I show that in the Chilean case catastrophe has led to an increase in state capacities; and these institutional developments work for the benefit of the Chilean state not only in case of emergencies but in everyday life.