Combining Economic Trend Data with Suffering Narratives for Disaster-Struck Nations

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 53
Oral Presentation
Ronald ANDERSON , Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Some scholars of suffering have noted that the most intense moments of suffering not only cannot be quantified, but the experience cannot be described in words. To the extent that this is true, empirical generalizations about intense suffering can only be inferred from subjective observations or experiences. Yet, instances of national disaster such as Rwanda’s mass genocide, where upwards of a million people were killed with huge knives in 1994, beg to be understood within the quality of life (QOL) framework. Can such instances of mass suffering be related to measures of negative-QOL? And can their effects be observable in national economic trend data? This study attempts to answer both questions using trend data from the Human Development Index as well as narrative descriptions of major national disasters such as Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, Zimbabwe’s political violence and refugee crisis in the past decade, Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and Tajikistan’s civil war after independence. In these instances of social and political chaos, we find evidence of significant economic downturns but not always in the aftermath of a disaster. And while we find considerable repugnance to the atrocities, world attention to a crisis is sometimes very short-lived or negligible. Speculations will be offered on how wide variation in global attentiveness to human atrocities affects the perception of QOL. This analysis is premised on the need for indicators of human progress that differentiate social change at the negative end, as well as the positive end, of societal attributes such as civility and social solidarity.