Elizabeth Angell

Doctoral CandidateColumbia University

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

AnthropologyColumbia University

The Seismic Cityscape: Earthquake Anticipation in Istanbul

My project asks how the expectation of a major natural disaster affects human-landscape relationships, and approaches this question through the lens of earthquake anticipation in Istanbul, Turkey--a city of some 13-15 million people located in an active fault zone with a history of devastating earthquakes. On August 17, 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern edge of the Marmara Sea, about 80 kilometers away, killing tens of thousands of people and underscoring Istanbul’s vulnerability to a similar disaster. Through twelve months of ethnographic and documentary research, I propose to trace the contours and effects of earthquake anticipation in Istanbul, both as a technopolitical process that seeks to mold landscapes, buildings, and bodies into a state of preparedness, and as an affective relationship to time and space generated by the experience of dwelling in a seismically active landscape. The project will investigate how earthquake risk is produced as an object of knowledge by experts like seismologists, engineers and actuaries, but also through rumor, faith, and superstition; how earthquake anticipation gains material and political effect through the activities of municipal officials, architects, activists, and other residents; and how the imagination of disaster shapes the everyday experience of life in the seismic cityscape. It will shed light on the role of earthquakes and earthquake anticipation in shaping the city of Istanbul's built environment and urban imaginary. Drawing on approaches from anthropology, archaeology, and science and technology studies, this project will contribute to the interdisciplinary study of disaster and the anthropology of contemporary Turkey.