Negotiative Commemoration: The Mechanics of Memory Work in Disaster Recovery

Authors: Ronald L Schumann*, University of North Texas
Topics: Cultural Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: Disaster recovery, Cultural landscapes, Place-making, Social memory, Photovoice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Memory work is intrinsic to disaster recovery. While formal disaster memorials provide spaces for survivors to grieve, assemble as communities, and remember those lost, much informal memory work takes place outside of these designated memorial sites. The post-disaster landscape itself requires that affected residents commemorate, or purposefully interact with place-based recollections, for the purpose of navigation on a daily basis. For years after a disaster, residents draw cues from remaining vestiges of the pre-disaster landscape to understand their position socially and temporally in recovery. Furthermore, physical and symbolic elements of the landscape bid residents to envision their own landscapes of long-term place recovery. Conflicts between these mental recovery constructs and reality on the ground engender a process of negotiative commemoration that shapes residents’ perceptions and, in turn, influences actions taken toward recovery.

This study explores the ways in which residents perform memory work during long-term recovery after a major disaster. Thirty-four coastal Mississippi residents participated in a photovoice procedure in 2013-2014, nearly nine years post-Hurricane Katrina. A grounded theoretical approach was used to derive themes from their photographs and interview data. Uniting cultural landscapes and hazards geography traditions, this study builds upon previous work examining commemoration after disasters and tragedies (e.g., Haas et al. 1977; Mitchell 1996; Foote 1997; Colten and Giancarlo 2011) to show how remembering (and forgetting) shapes geographic understandings, visions, and realities on a micro-level.

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