The modernist usage of the word crisis conveys the idea of an event that acts as a historical judgment, marks an epochal transition, and sometimes leads to a utopian era. Furthermore, current uses of crisis in the political sphere often figure catastrophic events as the result of errors and malfunctions, drawing attention away from the quotidian and normatively accepted practices and policies that produce them. Anthropological definitions of disaster, in contrast, understand catastrophes as the end result of historical processes by which human practices enhance the materially destructive and socially disruptive capacities of geophysical phenomena, technological malfunctions, and communicable diseases and inequitably distribute disaster risk according to lines of gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Despite this fundamental difference between customary and scholarly definitions of crises and disasters, the former term is commonly used to refer to the latter by political elites and academics alike. This article reviews the merits and limitations of the crisis concept in the analysis of disasters on the basis of anthropological research on catastrophes during the last 40 years and provides an overview of the analytical diversification of disaster anthropology since the 1970s.


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