Realising catastrophe: the financial ontology of the Anthropocene
Kob, Julius Janpeter
This dissertation investigates how the financial risk management practice of catastrophe modelling is redefining the ontology of natural catastrophe. Drawing from and developing the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’, referring to co-production of the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’ on a planetary scale, the dissertation argues that simulation-based risk modelling of future ‘natural’ disasters in insurance and reinsurance markets is not just affecting how catastrophe is interpreted by economic agents, economised and financialised, but is also driving changes in the realisation of actual disasters. The thesis calls this recursive dynamic the ‘financial ontology of Anthropocene catastrophe’. In developing the argument, the thesis extends actor-network theoretical perspectives on the Anthropocene to take fuller account of market devices, performativity and calculative practices in finance. Documentary research, 62 interviews and 14 participant observation episodes serve to reconstruct current practices of catastrophe modelling and its history since it emerged as a boutique risk management practice in the 1980s. Ultimately, it has become embedded in the calculative practices of some of the largest insurance and financial companies in the world and underpinning a specialist disaster securities market. Adding conceptual depth and fine-grained empirical detail to literature on the financialisation-Anthropocene nexus, the dissertation asks us to reconsider the boundaries between economic representations of the world and the meaning and occurrence of catastrophes in market societies. In an age of anthropogenic climate change, the thesis also serves as an analytical and historical underpinning of epistemic practices in climate finance in the emerging, even more encompassing, ‘financial ontology of the Anthropocene’.