Training for Catastrophe: Media of the Security State

My current book project examines the media of preparedness. Preparedness, a national security paradigm that moved to the center of US policy after September 11, 2001, simulates future catastrophes to plan for their eventual emergence. I analyze a wide variety of governmental media from the US Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and from intergovernmental organizations like the World Health Organization and the International Panel on Climate Change – including policy documents, training scenarios, databases, automated surveillance systems, and modeling platforms – as well as contemporary American science fiction films and novels. In my analysis, these different media all function as kinds of speculative fiction, producing the catastrophic futures with which preparedness is concerned in the present. I argue they train their various audiences – government officials, experts, the “general public” – to accept catastrophe as part of everyday life and to expect its perpetual re-emergence indefinitely into the future.

I am concerned in this project not necessarily with what the media of the security state are, but rather with what they do, with how they instruct their audiences in accepting catastrophe as normal and in expecting its continual emergence. Thinking of media as processes that act on us rather than as objects means bringing different kinds of media together by emphasizing how they function. It means, for example, focusing on how fictional and nonfictional, governmental and popular media all manage political imagination in the present. By examining the many different yet overlapping forms preparedness takes, Training for Catastrophe contributes to recent work in literary studies on the materiality and form of textual media, and to recent work in media studies that accounts for how things like digital technologies and systems become media. It shows how the media of preparedness inform one another, how they work together to govern our present response to future catastrophe. Training for Catastrophe also, however, seeks to deform the logic of preparedness these media enact. Preparedness tells us the future is already here, that it is catastrophic, and that we can do nothing to change it. A media studies of preparedness seeks to make change possible by resuscitating the futures security media produce, allowing us to reimagine the different forms preparedness might take.