The get-to-know: Michael Guggenheim

Quoted from Michael Guggenheims presentation-page at the Website for the University of London:

”Michael Guggenheim has studied in Zürich and Berlin, and obtained a PhD in Sociology in 2005 from the University of Zürich.  Prior to coming to the UK, Michael worked and researched in Budapest, Vienna, Montreal, and Berlin. Michael has taught both artists at art schools and natural scientists at technical universities, which has informed his understanding of how to teach sociology and how it can be used to intervene in the world. He has always found it important to work and experiment with different media and produce both theoretical texts but also visual and sensory works.

Michael’s work thus far has been defined by different yet connected themes relating to the relationship between experts and lay people, the role of objects for this relationship and on methodical and theoretical innovation derived from the combination of science studies with sociological theory. Michael was the lead PI on the ERC-funded project ”Organising Disaster: Civil Protection and the Population”, which looked at how disaster experts conceive of the population.”

Selected articles of interest with regards to workshop theme:

Introduction. Disasters and Politics.
Guggenheim, Michael. 2014. Introduction. Disasters and Politcs. Sociological Review, 62(S1), pp. 1-16. ISSN 0038-0261


What is the relationship between politics and disasters and how does this relate to the recent boom in disaster studies? The introduction to this volume argues that the recent interest in disasters is not because there are more disasters, but because of two recent developments within the social sciences: first, a focus on rupture rather than on continuity and second, a focus on materiality. Disasters are the intersection of these changes. Disasters are ruptures of society and thus inherently political. They provide a particular kind of rupture, one which does not simply affect values and norms, but the material backup of society and its material infrastructure. From this starting point, the article discusses two movements of how to relate disasters and politics: disasters as producing politics and politics as producing disasters. The former begins with disasters and considers how they acquire the power to recompose the world. Disasters from this point of view not only produce politics, but a particular kind of (cosmo-)politics that deals with how humans relate to technology and nature. The latter begins with politics and considers how politics produces disasters. Here, as for example in preparedness, risk assessment and state of exception, politics is the productive force and disasters become means to legitimate, produce and arrive at certain politics.

Concrete governmentality: shelters and the transformations of preparedness
Deville, Joe; Guggenheim, Michael and Hrdličková, Zuzana. 2014. Concrete governmentality: shelters and the transformations of preparedness. Sociological Review, 62, pp. 183-210. ISSN 0038-0261


This article analyses how shelters act as a form of concrete governmentality. Shelters, like other forms of preparedness, are political acts in the absence of a disaster. They are materializations and visualizations of risk calculations. Shelters as a type of concrete governmentality pose the question of how to build something that lasts and resists, and remains relevant both when the object that is being resisted keeps changing and when the very act of building intervenes so publically in the life of the restless surrounding population. Comparing shelters in India, Switzerland and the UK, we highlight three transformations of preparedness that shelters trigger. First we analyse how shelters compose preparedness by changing the relationship between the state and its citizens. Rather than simply limiting risk or introducing “safety”, the building of shelters poses questions about who needs protection and why and, as we will show, this can generate controversy. Second, we analyse how shelters decompose preparedness by falling out of use. Third, we focus on struggles to recompose preparedness: Changing ideas about disasters thus lead to shelters being suddenly out of place, or needing to adapt.