Mediating the Morals of Disasters: Hurricane Katrina in Norwegian News Media

  • Kyrre Kverndokk


The Norwegian media responses to Hurricane Katrina were structured around three well-established sets of motifs in a globalized late modern disaster discourse: 1) The collapse of civil society, 2) Social vulnerability 2) Extreme weather and global warming. These sets of motifs portray relationships or non-relationships between natural evil and moral evil. Starting with Voltaire’s description of Candide’s arrival in Lisbon after the earthquake I discuss how an 18th century disaster discourse is echoed in contemporary media narratives. This paper explores a folkloristic and narratological approach to writing nature. I use Hurricane Katrina as a case for studying Norwegian media disaster narratives. In these narratives I am concerned with how such narratives transform disasters from being acts of nature to become issues of morale. Modern disaster narratives have more complex historical roots then often claimed. This complexity is mirrored in the media representations of Hurricane Katrina. 


Bauman, Z. 2006. Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity.

Bogatyrêv, P. and R. Jakobson [1929] 2005: Folklore as a special form of creativity. In Folklore: Critical Concepts in Litterary and Cultural Studies, IV, edited by Dundes, A. New York: Routledge: 173–185.

Boykoff, M. T. 2011. Who Speaks for the Climate? Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dynes, R. and H. Rodríguez 2007. Finding and Framing Katrina: The Social Construction of Disaster. In The Sociology of Katrina. Perspectives on a Modern Catastroph, edited by Brunsma, David. L., David Overfelt and J. Steven Picou. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: Lanham: 23–33.

Hartman, C. and G. D. Squires 2006. There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster. Race, Class and Hurricane Katrina. New York: Routledge.

Hertsgaard, M. 2006. Global Storm Warning. In Unatural Disaster, The Nation on Hurricane Katrina, edited by Reed, B. New York: Nation Books: 17–21.

Hewitt, K. 1997. Regions of Risk. A Geographical Introduction to Disasters. Harlow: Longman.

Holm, I. W. 2012a. Earthquake in Haiti: Kleist and the Birth of Modern Disaster Discourse. In: New German Critique 39(1): 49–66.

Holm, I. W. 2012b. The Cultural Analysis of Disasters . In The Cultural Life of Catastrophes and Crises, edited by C. Meiner and K. Veel. Berlin: de Gruyter: 15–32.

Holbek, B. 1987: Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Danish folklore in a European Perspective. Helsinki: FF Communications.

Kempf, J. 2013. Picturing the catastrophe. News photographs in the first weeks after Katrina. Forthcoming.

Kverndokk, K. 2010. ’Ach! Hvilken Domme-Dag, min GUD! Ach! Hvilken Dag!’ – om eksemplaritet og jærtegn i dansk-norsk resep-

sjon av Lisboa-jordskjelvet i 1755. In Tidsskrift for kulturforskning 2: 55–71.

Kverndokk, K. 2011. Tegn i tiden. Naturkatastrofer som kulturhistorie. In Humanioras fremtid. Kampen om forståelsen av menneske og samfunn, edited by I. Muftuoglu, S. Andersen Øyen and F. I. Birkeland. Cappelen Damm: Oslo: 155–178.

Kjørup, S. 2002. Semiotik. Roskilde Universitetsforlag: Frederiksberg.

Latour, B. 1993. We have never been modern. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Lindahl, C. 2012. Legends of Hurricane Katrina: The Right to Be Wrong, Survivior-to-Survivior Storytelling, and Healing. In Journal of American Folklore 125(496): 139–176.

Löffler, U. 1999. Lissabons Fall – Europas Schrecken. Die Deutung des Erdbebens von Lissabon im deutschsprachigen Protestantismus de 18. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Mooney, C. 2007. Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. New York: Harcourt.

Neiman, S. 2002. Evil in Modern Thought. An Alternative History of Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Nicolaysen, B. K. 1999. Døme, dømesoger og føredøme. Usystematiske merknader kring system i studie av døme. In Retorisk årbok: 102–254.

Propp, V. 1968. Morphology of the Folktale. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Reed, B., ed. 2006. Unatural Disaster. The Nation on Hurricane Katrina. New York: Nation Books.

Reilly, B. 2009. Disaster and Human History. Case Studies in Nature, Society and Catastrophe. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Solnit, R. 2009. A Paradise Built in Hell. The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. New York: Viking.

Tierney, K., C. Bevc and E. Kuligowski 2006. Metaphors Matter: Disaster Myths, Media Frames, and Their Consequences in Hurricane Katrina. In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 604: 57–81.

Voltaire [1759] 1918. Candide. New York: Boni and Liverigh.

Webb, G. 2007. The Popular Culture of Disaster: Exploring a New Dimension of Disaster Research. In Handbook of Disaster Research, edited by H. Rodríguez, E. L. Quarantelli and Dynes, R. New York: Springer: 430–440.

Žižek, S. 2005. Some Political Incorrect reflections on Violence in France and Related Matters. 3. Escape from New Orleans. [Cited May 7, 2013]. Available from
Peer-Reviewed Articles