Public Catastrophes, Private Losses


The Institute for Research on Women (IRW) announces its twenty-second annual interdisciplinary seminar, “Public Catastrophes, Private Losses.” Wars, genocides, forced migration, and terrorism, as well as health epidemics and natural disasters remake lives. In the aftermath of physical and emotional dislocation, how do people process a sense of loss and rebuild their lives? A growing body of scholarship suggests that the impacts of catastrophic events vary across different contexts, bleeding into multiple domains. This seminar looks at the ways public catastrophes imprint themselves on lives, how individuals, as members of groups, narrate, process, and grapple with legacies of loss, and how states and non-governmental organizations address such events, serving the needs of some populations better than others.

Inspired by feminism, we are particularly interested in the ways the personal and public are intertwined, and how, in the aftermath of catastrophe, families and communities become repositories for loss, silence, mourning, witnessing, reconstruction, and reparation. What are the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to make sense out of overwhelming events or processes that have profoundly disrupted the life of their family, community or nation? How can states and other social institutions best respond to their needs? Recent social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, suggest that social inequalities shape understandings of whose lives count, and what kinds of deaths are grievable. We live in a precarious world, where the lives of so many are considered expendable.


2018-19 Seminar Fellows
2018-19 Seminar Schedule
2019-20 Seminar Call