The charging of the flood : a cultural analysis of the impact and recovery from Hurrican Ike in Galveston, Texas

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Lord, Jerry Joseph

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This ethnographic analysis of the social and physical effects of Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas and the consequent recovery that emerged afterward is based on 20 months of field research conducted immediately before and after the storm’s landfall. The introductory chapter locates the ethnographer just prior to the hurricane as he prepared for an unexpected evacuation. It then presents the conceptual framework for a multi-sited ethnography of “disaster culture” and introduces analytic keywords of “vulnerability,” “resilience,” “dreamworlds,” and “catastrophe.” It concludes by discussing a set of historical and contemporary socio-economic conditions in Galveston. This provides a frame of reference of both the social formations of storm experiences and the public recovery dynamics that attended with Ike’s aftermath that are discussed throughout the text. This is further supplemented with an explanation of Ike’s flooding and the geographic distribution of storm damage. Chapter two begins with an ethnographic vignette of the first townhall meeting held in Galveston after Ike. This introduces several recurrent topics of concern that were formative of disaster-culture dynamics. It then provides a literature review of the anthropology of disaster before segueing into a presentation of storm narratives. It ends with an analysis that further elaborates on the formative dynamics of Galvestonian disaster culture. Chapter three provides an analysis of the public deliberations that emerged over long-term redevelopment initiatives; particularly, the advocacy practices of a faith-based consortium; advocacy on behalf of restoring the University of Texas Medical Branch; the public Long Term Recovery Committee, and a FEMA buyout program that benefited higher income property owners on the western end of the island. The fourth chapter provides an extended case study concerning the rebuilding of 569 units of public housing that were subsequently destroyed after the hurricane. The rebuilding of public housing became the most vitriolic public issue during the course of fieldwork. The concluding chapter invokes the concepts of “dreamworlds” and “catastrophe” used by historian and philosopher Walter Benjamin to show the processual dynamics between the initial hopes for collectively strengthening Galveston through federally funded redevelopment and the increasingly negative assessments of the city’s long-term urban fortunes.




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