University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Jennifer Rubenstein

Jennifer Rubenstein

Associate Professor, Department of Politics


The Politics of Emergency Claim-Making and it Alternatives

The contemporary world is rife with what might be called “emergency claim-making.” Public officials, journalists, scientists, citizen activist groups and others claim that particular situations are emergencies. In so doing, they seek to direct attention and resources to particular groups or issues, justify exceptions to normal rules and procedures, and/or defend the use of violent force. Their claims, which sometimes reinforce or compete with each other, are accepted, rejected, or ignored by different audiences.

The aim of my book project is to bring the politics of emergency claim-making into view, elucidate how it functions in the context of large-scale global issues such as climate change, epidemics, violent conflict, and migration, evaluate it normatively, and consider alternatives to it. My research so far suggests that the politics of emergency claim-making—as a distinctive set of discourses, institutions, and practices—is a poisoned chalice, especially for marginalized groups: it promises a lot, yet delivers much less—and sometimes does more harm than good. However, it is almost impossible to resist, especially given the dearth of other options. A central aim of the book, therefore, is to show that the politics of emergency claim-making is merely one kind of response to urgency among others; it is not inevitable. Indeed, its limitations offer ample reason to search out alternative languages, practices, and institutional forms for addressing urgent issues.