Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the Social Sciences

As analyses and "spin" of the Katrina crisis grow, we confront the sort of public issue to which a social science response is urgently needed. Accordingly, the SSRC has organized this forum addressing the implications of the tragedy that extend beyond "natural disaster," "engineering failures," "cronyism" or other categories of interpretation that do not directly examine the underlying issues—political, social and economic—laid bare by the events surrounding Katrina. Essays on this site explore a number of subjects related to:

  • Structures of vulnerability, including the race, class, gender, and age of those suffering most

  • Political projects that have distorted the pursuit of "homeland security"

  • Bias that has sent federal resources disproportionately to rural areas and suburbs rather than cities

  • Media coverage of the disaster

  • Response from the American public

  • Philanthropic and charitable responses

  • The physical infrastructure on which cities depend (and its vulnerabilities)

  • The implications of the Iraq War

  • Problems of oil dependency and related infrastructures

  • Environmental policy and global warming, wetlands management, etc.

  • Costs of “privatization” and cuts in government capacity

  • Leadership at every level

  • Law enforcement and public order

  • Predicting "emergencies" and responding to predictions

  • The economic implications of catastrophic events

  • Comparisons: to the recent Asian tsunami, to 9/11 in New York, to earlier hurricane disasters in the U.S., etc