Understanding Hurricane Katrina: MU Sociologist Oversees Publication of Essays Examining the Disaster
Aug. 27, 2007
Story Contact: Bryan Daniels, 573-882-9144, DanielsBC@missouri.edu
COLUMBIA, Mo. — For people who experienced it firsthand, Hurricane Katrina will last a lifetime. The effects — before and after the storm— have generated widespread interest among scholars, who in an upcoming book offer their collective insights about one of the worst catastrophes in United States history.
“This wasn’t just a natural disaster,” said David Brunsma, associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s College of Arts and Science. “This was a social disaster, economic disaster, political disaster and technical disaster. It was and continues to be immense. The underlying question is: What does the sociological lens allow us to see beyond the ‘natural’ wrath of this disaster?”
To better understand the consequences of Aug. 29, 2005, academic researchers from colleges and universities around the United States have submitted 13 essays that will be published in “The Sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a Modern Catastrophe.” The book is scheduled for release Aug. 28 and royalties will support ongoing relief efforts.
Brunsma oversaw the compilation of works and edited the book. David Overfelt, a Mizzou sociology graduate student; and J. Steven Picou, professor and chairman of the sociology department at the University of South Alabama, assisted with the project, which took about a year to complete. The book emerged from Brunsma and Overfelt's experience organizing the 2006 annual meetings of the Southern Sociological Society, an organization of professional sociologists mainly in the South. The meetings were held in New Orleans.
In studying the topic, Brunsma said most sociologists agree that Katrina, which resulted in thousands of deaths and the widespread displacement of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, is “one of the most important events of our lifetime.” The book focuses on three main areas:
- Understanding the degree of physical and mental damage in the region and the importance of restoring both physical settings and families — most of which still suffer effects — to conditions of relative well-being.
- Reestablishing social structure; race, class, age and gender were widely discussed and debated by the media and American public.
- Utilizing the findings — which include the role of the media, military, religious organization, and federal, state and local leaders — to effectively prepare for the United States’ next catastrophic event.
“The structure of opportunity — socially, materially and economically — for folks from New Orleans was a disaster already in place,” he said. “You put a natural and technical disaster on top of that and you're compounding the problem tremendously. Typical disaster research in the past has had this notion that after a disaster, conditions in a community traditionally decline and the goal becomes to restore conditions — bringing that community back to where it was. But for people from New Orleans, one of the poorest communities, the status quo is useless; making it better than before becomes the goal.”