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Scarier than another storm: values at risk in the mapping and insuring of US floodplains

Elliott, Rebecca ORCID: 0000-0001-6983-7026 (2019) Scarier than another storm: values at risk in the mapping and insuring of US floodplains. British Journal of Sociology, 70 (3). 1067 - 1090. ISSN 0007-1315

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-4446.12381


How do people respond to the ways in which insurance mediates environmental risks? Socio-cultural risk research has characterized and analyzed the experiential dimension of risk, but has yet to focus on insurance, which is a key institution shaping how people understand and relate to risk. Insurance not only assesses and communicates risk; it also economizes it, making the problem on the ground not just one of risk, but also of value. This article addresses these issues with an investigation of the social life of the flood insurance rate map, the central technology of the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as it grafts a new landscape of ‘value at risk’ onto the physical and social world of New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Like other risk technologies, ubiquitous in modern societies as decision-making and planning tools, the map disseminates information about value and risk in order to tame uncertainty and enable prudent action oriented toward the future. However, drawing together interview, ethnographic, and documentary data, I find that for its users on the ground, the map does not simply measure ‘value at risk’ in ways that produce clear strategies for protecting property values from flooding. Instead, it puts values—beyond simply the financial worth of places—at risk, as well as implicates past, present, and future risks beyond simply flooding. By informing and enlarging the stakes of what needs protecting, and from what, I argue that plural and interacting ‘values at risk’ shape how people live with and respond to environmental risks that are mediated by insurance technologies.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 London School of Economics and Political Science
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 03 May 2018 13:54
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:26

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