Heat and Death in France: History and the Social Ecology of Catastrophe

Mon. 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Interlocken B

A devastating August 2003 heat wave ranks as both the worst natural disaster and the greatest public health catastrophe in contemporary France, resulting in nearly 15,000 unanticipated deaths in a three-week period. Significant disparities in mortality—the disproportional selection of the elderly, the poor, and city-dwellers for death—indicate patterns of risk that resulted as much from the social ecology of modern France as from the “natural” causes of disaster, calling attention to the intersection of society, health, and environmental security. Drawing on three years of extensive archival research and fieldwork, this project is a critical ethnography of the heat wave based on stories of the lives and deaths of a sample of its victims. The project's broad aims are to explore the relationship between health and society, to trace the historical production of vulnerability in contemporary urban environments, and to highlight new forms of public health risk in an era marked by dramatic climate change.

Richard Keller Richard Keller, Presenter
University of Wisconsin-Madison