Cecile Stehrenberger

Cécile Stehrenberger is professor of historical and comparative studies of science and technology at the University of Wuppertal. She received her PhD from the University of Zurich. She worked as a lecturer at the universities of Braunschweig and Erfurt and was visiting scholar at Princeton IAS, University of Delaware, Drexel University and CSDS in Delhi, India. She was also a visiting professor at the National University of La Plata (Argentina).
In her project "From Piedras Negras 1954 to Guadalajara 1992. An entangled historical epistemology of human science disaster knowledge" she examines the history of disasters and the sociological and anthropological research on this topic during the Cold War in the United States and Latin America. She also explores "slow disasters in the wasteocene", focusing on the materiality and epistemology of toxic waste and disaster relief in Germany, Nicaragua and Equatorial Guinea. Other research topics include "crisis communication and trust", "migration and gender", "feminist science studies and narratology".


Publications (selection)


2013. “Francos Tänzerinnen auf Auslandstournee”. Gender, Nation und Folklore im colonial encounter, Bielefeld: Transcript.


Journal articles and book chapters:

2021 (with Tomás Usón). A Temporal Device: Disasters and the Articulation of (De)acceleration in and beyond 1970 Ancash’s Earthquake. Res Publica. Revista de Historia de las Ideas Políticas, 24.3: 467-480.

2020. Annobón 1988. Slow disaster, colonialism, and the Franco dictatorship, in: Art in Translation 12.2 (2020): 263-287.

2020. Saberes para dominar y gobernar. El Instituto de Estudios Africanos, in: Aranzadi, Juan and Gonzalo Álvarez-Chillida (eds.): Guinea Ecuatorial (des) conocida. (Lo que sabemos, ignoramos, inventamos y deformamos acerca de su pasado y su presente), Vol I, Madrid: UNED: 675-698.

2020. Disaster Studies as Politics with Other Means: Covid-19 and the Legacies of Cold War Disaster Research, in: Items. Insights from the Social Sciences 12/03/2020,

2019. Theorizing the Global Hispanophone as dynamics of (dis)entanglement. Suggestions from a history of science perspective, in: Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 20.1-2: 99-113.

2019 (with Urs Lindner). There is no climate justice without decolonization, in: The technosphere,

our agency, our planet,

2017. Praktisches Wissen, Katastrophen und Wissenschaft. Zur Geschichte der sozialwissenschaftlichen Katastrophenforschung, 1949-1989, in: Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 40: 350-367.

2016. Psychische Störungen und sozialwissenschaftliche Katastrophenforschung, 1949-1985, in: NTM. Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 2: 61-79.

2014 (with Svenja Goltermann): Disaster Medicine: Genealogy of a Concept, in: Social Science & Medicine 120: 317-324.

2014. Medicina colonial y literatura franquista. El caso de las novelas de Liberata Masoliver, in: Debats 123, 20 (2014): 48-5.


Research project as CALAS fellow

Title: From Piedras Negras 1954 to Guadalajara 1992. An entangled historical epistemology of human science disaster knowledge

Abstract: This research project critically examines various episodes of human science disaster knowledge production of the second half of the 20th century. Its goal is to analyze how the social dimensions of disasters, crises, and catastrophes have been studied in the past in order to develop suggestions for knowing them otherwise in the present. The first part of the project offers a history of US-American social science disaster research from 1949 to 1992, focusing particularly on the activities of several research groups in Latin America.

These activities included sociological studies of human “behavior” during a flood of the Rio Grande in 1954, during the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, and after the explosions occurring in 1992 in the city of Guadalajara. Their findings have been highly influential in shaping the thinking and acting upon crisis, disaster, and catastrophe in the age of (neo)liberal governmentality, by developing key concepts such as “resilience” or consolidating the idea of disaster as “disruptive events” and “natural laboratories”.

The second part of the project provides a genealogy of “disaster mental health” in Latin America showing how it originated and circulated in this region, but also how it moved from there to other parts of the world, engendering the “empire of trauma” through the field of disaster in manifold sociopolitical realms.

The third part of my project investigates a “slow violence” type of environmental disaster unfolding since 1988 on the island of Annobón. It shows how coloniality can be detected not only at the heart of the disaster causes but also at the level of knowledge production on it. Colonial continuities in power relations and thought patterns have made it difficult for this disaster to be known within the

truth regimes of hegemonic understandings of scientificity, evidencing the need for rethinking categories and procedures of disaster science and developing analytical and methodological alternatives.

The first two parts of the project contribute to a better understanding of the status quo of human science disaster, crisis, and catastrophe-related knowledge, by explaining how it came into being. The third part advances beyond a classical history of science writing aiming for a feminist and decolonial science studies inspired aspirational epistemology of knowing disaster differently.