What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Klinenberg's Analysis of the 1995 Heatwave? Does He Successfully Explain Why so Many People Died?

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What are the strengths and weaknesses of Klinenberg’s analysis of the 1995 Heatwave? Does he successfully explain why so many people died?

The heat wave in Chicago 1995 was not only a natural disaster, but according to Klinenberg, it was a social and political disaster as well. Chicago and its residents were going through an extreme weather condition; it was a combination of heat and humidity and it developed into a massive panic throughout the entire city, as people were suffering immensely. Due to the great heat, people were searching for alternatives when the electricity and water supply had decreased by rebelling against the state, just to somewhat survive. The heat wave turned out to be Chicago's most fatal environmental event. The Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, created a study of the occurrence to try to understand why so many people died. However, he did not involve any sociological evidence in his investigation, which provoked Eric Klinenberg into analysing the crucial social structure of Chicago, as he believed that the reason as to why so many people died, was not only because of the weather, but also due to the vulnerability of particular areas in the city. Klinenberg's direct motive was to explain the heat wave's unprecedented mortality rate, by examining what made Chicago so vulnerable to the heat wave, and thus provided an intriguing description of the changes that transformed metropolitan America during the 1990's. Klinenberg emphasizes, especially, three areas in his study; the economic decline of these areas, the isolation of certain individuals and communities and the lack of aid from the social services in Chicago. This essay will explore the strengths and the weaknesses of Klinenberg's article, by including other experts to support the points made, as well as determining on whether he successfully clarifies why so many people died during this tragic event.

To take on such a study is quite a difficult process, as it requires an exceeding amount of evidence in order to win over individuals' approval. Klinenberg did not have much verification from the start of his investigation, but he did, however, manage to develop an important discussion among experts. According to Klinenberg, a sociological perspective of the heat wave can determine different aspects of the disaster, as it “shows how the climate, … the local government, the organization most responsible for protecting the welfare of citizens … [can] determine the level of danger and damage that a disaster such as the heat wave inflicts” (Klinenberg, E., 'De-naturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave', p. 242) and he successfully proves that to be possible. By bringing in the transformation of Chicago since the 1990's, Klinenberg develops an understanding on how the isolation of the 'poor' and the 'rich' was segregated within the city by stating “that [the] poverty in North Lawndale [Chicago] was not only more severe (in terms of income) but also more pervasive than in South Lawndale” (Klinenberg, E., 'De-naturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave', p. 265). Bourdieu is introduced in the article, as he somewhat supports the view, that power exists in every sector of society and that the power has the control to impose what is wants on each of those areas. Klinenberg creates a continuation of Bordieu's argument, by claiming that the media influenced the citizens of Chicago, so that they would develop an ignorance concerning the social disaster of the heat wave. The media did not analyse the social catastrophe, as the journalists and its superiors did not believe that it would sell to the public, which, according to the various sources Klinenberg uses, reveals to be true. As stated by Klinenberg the “journalistic and political representations of the heat wave de-emphasized the social and political determinants of the disaster” (Klinenberg, E., 'De-naturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the...
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