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Social Theory and Practice

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published on May 7, 2019

Elizabeth Brake
DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract201942956

Rebuilding after Disaster
Inequality and the Political Importance of Place

Liberal egalitarians face unappreciated challenges in explaining why the state should assist citizens in disaster recovery and why the state should ever assist in rebuilding in high-risk areas. Addressing these challenges and justifying state-funded disaster recovery assistance requires invoking the most politically salient aspect of disasters: their tendency to increase social inequality. A liberal egalitarian principle of equal opportunity justifies assistance in recovery, at least for disadvantaged citizens. But further argument is required to show why the state should ever subsidize rebuilding as opposed to relocation, if citizens can have access to equally good opportunities in a low-risk area. I argue that displacement has costs which matter under equal opportunity – but this rationale for disaster recovery extends to other causes of displacement, such as gentrification.