Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the American Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. Biloxi, Mississippi, a small town on the coast, was one of the towns devastated by the storm. A decade after the storm, recovery remains an ongoing process. My ethnographic research in 2006, 2010, and 2011 and media and historic document analysis throughout these ten years explore this recovery process and what pre-disaster cultural, social, political, and economic issues have shaped Biloxi and Biloxians' recovery.
The small coastal city of Biloxi sits on the Mississippi Sound of the Gulf of Mexico. The city's history and residents' identities are intertwined with this waterfront location. Biloxians rely on the Gulf for recreation and job opportunities, particularly in the long-standing seafood and tourism industries. Scattered piers are filled with recreational and shrimping boats. Casinos dot the shoreline where seafood processing plants once stood. Many Biloxians still proudly identify with the city's coastal location, neighborhoods they were raised in or lived in before Katrina, their perceived socioeconomic class status, and their own and their ancestor's racial, ethnic, and national identities.
However, Biloxi's waterfront location also makes the city prone to hurricane strikes. Historic storms like Camille in 1969 and Fort Lauderdale in 1947 have affected the city's development and influenced residents' beliefs and behaviors during their preparation for Katrina. Biloxians were aware of Katrina's predicted landfall in the days and hours before the storm, but this history of hurricanes influenced many residents' decisions to remain in the city for the storm. Many residents I spoke to described their belief that survival in previous storms indicated they would survive Katrina.
Other pre-Katrina processes influenced Biloxians' preparations for, coping with, and response to the disaster, as expected in vulnerability theory. Poorer and working class residents were less able to prepare for or evacuate before the storm, if they chose to do so. Residents in higher risk neighborhoods like East Biloxi found themselves affected more severely by the storm, often losing much of their homes and lives. Biloxians' with less political and economic power struggled to keep their voice heard as city and other government officials laid the framework for recovery.
Pre-Katrina Biloxians' cultural, political, and economic inequalities directly affected the recovery process. To better understand these influences, in this research I use a political economy approach to describe and analyze Biloxi's recovery from Katrina. To strengthen this analysis, I have also drawn on theories regarding vulnerability and resilience, risk and uncertainty, and cultural-historical context. Each of these approaches contributes to a better understanding of how post-disaster recovery processes work - particularly in the case of post-Katrina Biloxi. This work also builds on disaster anthropology and social science research that rejects the concept of disasters as isolated events and instead argues that disasters are influenced by broader and long-standing cultural, political, and economic processes. In this work I also bring this argument for a holistic approach into long-term disaster recovery.
The holistic anthropological approach to the post-Katrina Biloxi that I have used here reveals the importance of understanding a range of facts and processes that exist before, during, and after a disaster to explore the recovery process. Post-Katrina Biloxi is as much a product of pre-Katrina Biloxi as it is a product of the effects of the hurricane itself.
When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the American Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 it caused serious destruction in Biloxi, Mississippi. Biloxi is a small town on the Mississippi Sound of the Gulf of Mexico. The local shoreline now features sand beaches, heritage oaks, and piers filled with recreational and fishing boats. Casinos dot the coastline. Biloxians proudly identify with the city’s waterfront location, history of seafood and tourism industries and occupations, various geographic neighborhoods, and racial, ethnic, and national heritages like French, African-American, Slavonian, or Vietnamese. However, the city’s coastal location has also put Biloxians in the path of many hurricanes. Katrina was particularly destructive - residents lost homes, schools, businesses, and friends and family members (to death and relocation). Over ten years after the storm, long-term recovery remains an ongoing process, shaped by both the storm itself and pre-Katrina Biloxi. Residents who had lived through prior hurricanes used those experiences to shape their decisions before, during, and after the storm. Many people, particularly poorer and working class residents, continue to struggle over decisions to rebuild their lives in other areas or to return to higher risk neighborhoods near the water. Biloxians’ with less political and economic power struggle to keep their voices heard as other residents and government officials made decisions about recovery in the city. Ultimately post-Katrina Biloxi is a product of not only the hurricane itself, but also of pre-Katrina Biloxi and its inequalities and conflicts between local residents.
publicabstract, anthropology, disaster, hurricane, Katrina, political economy, vulnerability
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Marie Trivedi