Debating Life After Disaster: Charity Hospital Babies and Bioscientific Futures in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Abstract

In Louisiana’s unique, populist-derived charity health system, the self-designation Charity Hospital Baby expresses situational identity anchored in the life cycle and the inversion of racist and authoritative connotations. This article draws on theoretical perspectives of stratified reproduction and the politics of time to examine the controversy in which Babies advocate reopening the Katrina-damaged New Orleans Charity Hospital, and administrators and planners support a new state-of-the-art biosciences district, GNOBED. Babies evoke the present, ethical urgency (kairos) of responding to sickness and disability; GNOBED implies prolonging or saving future lives through biotechnologies under development in accelerated time (chronos). As preservationists and residents threatened with displacement join “re-open Charity” proponents, planners symbolically engage in prolepsis, rhetorically precluding opposing arguments with flash forward of supposedly “done deals.” At stake is nothing less than social death for a segment of this ethnically diverse city.