Independent Research: Continuity, Social Change and Katrina.

Henry, J. (2011). Continuity, social change and Katrina. Disasters, 35(1), 220-242. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7717.2010.01201.x/abstract.

This study sought to explain the relationship between social change and continuity within a post-disaster environment. The article primarily focuses on the data from New Orleans, LA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Through analysis of “field observations, interviews with evacuees, media accounts of proposals for long-term recovery”, Henry seeks to discern between the presence of continuity and social change in New Orleans after disaster struck (Henry, 2011).  One major event investigated is the restoration of surge barriers in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and Lake Borgne; followed by the subsequent closing of the MRGO in 2009.  MRGO’s closing had been in discussion for decades and had been an area of contention for years before Katrina ever hit land. This is an example of the continuity that Henry felt would support the idea that perhaps social change is not as prevalent as once believed. Following their research, Henry asserts that there is not an obvious presence of social change post-Katrina. It seems that in a number of frameworks studied, there was a great deal continuity linked from the state of New Orleans before and after the storm. Still, Henry notes that there is potential that the social structure in New Orleans may be well on its way to changing, stating that “early demographic reports had hinted at a whiter, younger, and more educated New Orleans population” (Henry, 2011).  Regardless of potential demographic changes, there is still a great deal of problems that were present prior to Hurricane Katrina that make it difficult to suggest any hope of social change.

I found the author’s discussion of theories of social change and continuity throughout history to be especially interesting. The idea that social change has been viewed from many different perspectives and in various forms is intriguing.  A fascinating thought that I had never considered myself is the notion that we should view post-disaster social change differently in the United States and other developed countries. Society is more appropriately prepared and disaster response programs in developed countries are in place in order to reduce any major change in pre-existing systems. The author is suggesting that we should recognize this when researching social change in the United States. I found this to be contradictory to his conclusion on social change in New Orleans. Henry notes the importance of recognizing that social change might not be as prevalent or obvious in developed countries. However, when he states that social change was not found the case study he does not acknowledge this bit of information. Overall, the literature review was conflicting and, while interesting, caused more confusion rather than provide potential areas of connection with the Hurricane Katrina study. It is important to recognize opposing arguments in articles such as these, but the author would have gained credibility had he noted those arguments in relation to this specific study.

I feel that this article was completed a bit before its proper time. I have personally seen that New Orleans not quite the city that it used to be.  Years later, there was considerable rebuilding, be it structural or community based, to be done in the greater New Orleans area. I have had the opportunity to go numerous reconstruction trips to the parishes most effected and have seen that even five-six years did not provided enough time or money to get residents out of FEMA trailers and back into their houses. It wasn’t until 2011 (the same year that the article was written) that there were no longer people living in FEMA trailers.  So, to expect that a sustainable social change, especially in a developed country/city that might make change less obvious, would occur at this point is perhaps too early for a final judgment call.

As professionals, we must be incredibly cautious about the information we choose to study and the method through which we approach it. It is imperative that we choose the appropriate scope for our research. Our research should be narrow in that it does not include mass amount of information that effects the data but it should not be so narrow that we do not include pertinent data. The choices we make as research professionals are obvious in our research and can truly effect the manner in which a study is approached by our colleagues and the general public.

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