Front matter - Sydney Studies in Society and Culture Volume 7

Peter Higgins


Disasters are events laden with significance. Men and women endow the classic disasters with a mythic dimension and the names of the places where they occurred are remembered as in a litany: Pompeii, Krakatoa, Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Borphal.

A look at the origins of the word disaster is instructive. In the original Greek, it meant 'movement of a star'; 'the blasts or stroke of an unpropitious star' (Ward, this volume). The Greeks sometimes saw the uncharacteristic movement of stars as portents of disaster. The stars could indicate divine displeasure with mortals, and if sufficiently angry, the gods' retribution could be manifest in a natural disaster, or possibly in a military defeat.

Reflections on disasters today indicate that a similar eschatological consciousness remain as people plumb the depths of their imaginations in search of the meanings of these events. This is in spite of the fact that within a dominant discourse of scientific rationality, one might expect disasters to be defined as purely physical events. But we still see disasters as carrying messages of great importance.



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