By Elizabeth Marino
University of Alaska-Fairbanks
Student Committee Editor
Disaster research in anthropology is growing. This is due in part to the expanding field of environmental anthropology and emerging understandings of climate change as increasing slow and rapid onset disasters. Over the last four decades, social scientists including anthropologists, have built a robust argument for understanding disaster experiences as being located within the social fabric. Disasters most often do not create, but rather expose, underlying social inequities. Disasters reveal entrenched power hierarchies and unequal resource distribution. Disasters lay bare our fundamental beliefs about the divine, about social ties and obligations, and about societal conceptions of justice and fairness.
For applied anthropologists, disasters also offer a venue where better understanding can lead to better outcomes, sometimes immediately. Following the lead of anthropologist such as Anthony Oliver-Smith, Gregory Button and Susanna Hoffman, a new generation of disaster anthropologists are primed to tackle some of the most pressing issues in contemporary society. These include climate change, vulnerability reduction, resource distribution schemas, and opening environmental discourses to culturally diverse actors and stakeholders.
The following essays are the results of fieldwork in two of the most devastating and controversial disasters of the last decade. Landon Yarrington offers us an original take on the concept of ‘triage logic’ in humanitarian aid. His case study is situated in Haiti during and in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010. Jennifer Trivedi offers us an analysis on local participation in rebuilding material and social worlds following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her first hand accounts insist on the maintenance of agency among vulnerable populations and demonstrate that local participation is essential in successful disaster response. We believe anthropological methods, particularly ethnography, are essential analytic tools for understanding the complex, totalizing outcomes of vulnerability construction and disaster experience. We offer these essays as proof of our field’s insight into this arena.