Accepted Paper:

Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and the challenge to white, male hegemony  
Seumas Bates (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

In southern Louisiana, the potential for and memory of hurricanes and oil spills is woven into the cultural landscape. This experience of disaster exists within on-going processes of cultural precariousness, whereby established, normative hierarchies of race and gender are increasingly threatened.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines how local 'traditional' gender and racial hierarchies have been impacted by the lived experience of major disasters, but also how these disaster-processes are experienced within pre-existing trajectories of social change.

It reflects upon a period of ten months ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Plaquemines Parish, southern Louisiana, during 2011. This community has suffered two major disasters in recent history. The first; Hurricane Katrina, made landfall in the town of Buras in 2005, and destroyed all but a handful of the man-made structures in the community. The second; the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, caused massive ecological damage to the surrounding marshland and bayous in 2010. The combination of these two disasters has caused significant impact to local community life.

However, this disaster-prone region experiences both hurricanes and oil spills as somewhat normalised, constituent parts of the local cultural landscape, either as memories of past disasters or within the preparation for those forthcoming. Katrina and the oil spill were unusual primarily in terms of their vast scale.

These disasters were therefore experienced within the wider, on-going cultural processes of this disaster-rich landscape. This paper shall focus on how certain local gender and racial hierarchies, based largely around a particular ideal of normative 1950s American values, have been challenged both by the impact of these disasters but also by wider changes to American social norms. It shall foreground therefore how the impact of these major disasters has been experienced within pre-existing, on-going processes of social change.

Panel P095
Living with disasters: hazards, continuity and change