From Monologue to Dialogue
Monologue is a fitting description of much of what passes for the social study of disaster. Students of calamity rarely include the voices of victims in their reasoned accounts, leaving a trail of important, if somewhat barren, work behind them. If it is true that immense swaths of human experience are routinely hidden behind the abstractions of academic disciplines, our intent is to assemble a mass of testimony not easily talked down by general propositions. One way to re-enchant the study of disaster, we argue, is to stick to the concrete. Our paper brings to first intensity the lived experiences of Hurricane Katrina narrated in a series of in-depth conversations with residents of two New Orleans’ neighborhoods. It is a story of the microconfusion of disaster. Each person we spoke with was faced with cobbling together a biographical solution to the seemingly endless array of contradictions forced on them by the confluence of an all encompassing catastrophe and a woefully inadequate state and federal response. From escaping the water, to life in exile, to returning and rebuilding, "Miss Katrina" opened a lingering moment in which life was lived on a scheme of uncertified possibilities. Their stories challenge several of the working assumptions of the normal social science model of disaster. By way of a conclusion, we make the case that the words of those who lived disaster pry open new and challenging questions in the study of people and calamity.