Remembering Bhopal

I began my research career (in 1990) at the site of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, with fieldwork focused on the continuing legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court that pitted gas leak survivors and supporting activists against Union Carbide.  I worked closely with gas survivor organizations in Bhopal, and later with chemical plant communities facing similar risks in the United States.  My book Advocacy After Bhopal describes how different stakeholders understood and responded to the Bhopal disaster, in ways that revealed their understandings of what caused the disaster, of justice, and of the changing world system that the Bhopal case was playing out within, and could be said to index.  The book describes growing recognition of uneven distributions of environmental risk, and the emergence of environmental justice movements to address this.  It describes the logics through which environmental health problems are filtered – and often discounted — by medical professionals, courts and multinational corporations.  It details an emerging global political-economic system that is not adequately governed by established legal regimes.

From the outset, it was clear to me that “remembering Bhopal” is a critical part of efforts to understand and respond to contemporary environmental problems.  I thus teach the Bhopal case in my undergraduate classes, and have encouraged many graduate students to take on research that in some way addresses the challenge of understanding, communicating and reducing environmental risk.  I’ve also run a workshop for high school teachers interested in teaching their students about the Bhopal disaster, and remained available for lectures and seminars.

I’ve also continued to analyze the dynamics of disaster, vulnerability and resilience.  In spring 2007, for example, I taught a class called “Thinking Through Disaster,” designed especially for students at Bard College who were involved in efforts to conceptualize and practically respond to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina.  See material from the class here: