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Sociology of disaster

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Serbia, Obrenovac - The Four Paws disaster relief team has started its mission supporting the Serbian crises team.

Sociology of disaster or sociological disaster research[1] is a sub-field of sociology that explores the social relations amongst both natural and human-made disasters.[2] Its scope includes local, national, and global disasters - highlighting these as distinct events that are connected by people through created displacement, trauma, and loss. These connections, whether that is as a survivor, working in disaster management, or as a perpetrator role, is non-discrete and a complex experience that is sought to be understood through this sub-field.[3][4] Interdisciplinary in nature, the field is closely linked with environmental sociology and sociocultural anthropology.


Many studies in the field of sociology of disaster focus on the link between social solidarity and the vulnerabilities exposed by disasters. Scholarship in this field has observed how such events can produce both social solidarity[5][6][7][8] and social conflict,[9][10][11][12][13] and more importantly, expose inequalities inherent in the social order by exponentially exacerbating its effects. Studies investigating the emotional impact of disaster state that the emotional responses in these contexts are inherently adaptive. These emotions, when reflected on and processed, lead to post traumatic growth, resilience, increased altruism, and engagement with community. [14]

Early disaster research established the mainstream parameters of what it is to do such research - i.e. a focus on solidarity arising in the aftermath of disasters and that disasters are a consequence of human maladaptation to the hazardous environment.[15]

The research is predominantly done in the United States, Germany and Italy.

Types and causes of disasters

  • Natural disaster – a natural disaster is an event that occurs on its own due to the earth's regular processes. Some natural disasters can be predicted while others happen very suddenly. Injury, death and damage to personal or commercial property often occurs during these events. A few examples are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Certain areas around the globe are prone to certain natural disasters.[citation needed]
  • Human-made/technological disaster – these types of disaster are caused by the human race but can also be prevented by the human race. Advancements in technology are a wonderful thing but some uses of it can be very hazardous to life on earth. Extreme precautions must be taken in order to avoid most of these types of disasters. A few examples are chemical/nuclear, mass power outages and cyber attacks such as computer hacking.[citation needed]
  • Terrorist attacks – a terrorist attack is an act of crime or violence that is directed towards a certain group or belief system. These attacks are usually provoked by political or religious reasons. These events usually include the use of violence that often occur in bodily injury and even loss of life. Some examples are 9/11, Boston marathon bomber and the beheading of multiple American reporters by ISIS[citation needed]
  • Epidemic - an epidemic is an infectious disease that could be spread world wide. These can occur and could be called a major disaster due to the fact of people getting infected or sick and the amount of deaths that occur before any vaccination has been made. A few examples of major epidemic disasters are Ebola, The Black Death and Asian Flu. All of these had major death tolls and high amounts of people who were infected.[citation needed]

Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are the most common occurring types of disasters that affect the human population not only physically but mentally also. These types of disasters are the most detrimental to the morality of society and inflict a lot of mental stress and fear. People affected often have horrific flashbacks and can lead to self-harm and suicide is even possible. With epidemics, it is common for the ones who are affected by it to become very distanced if the disease doesn't make you bed ridden.[citation needed]

Behavior before, during, and after disasters

In the sociology of disaster, human beings are naturally inclined to prepare for the odd event of disaster by buying supplies such as non-perishable foods, bottled water, basic medical supplies, sources of light and heat and batteries to operate such things. We stow these things away in an accessible place but we also have predetermined evacuation routes and ways of transportation to escape the area that will be affected in the coming hours or days if a reliable prediction of catastrophe is presented to us.[citation needed]

During the event of disaster, humans usually panic and become stressed out. This is predictable because many have seen the destruction that certain natural disasters can do. People often contact loved ones and try to seek shelter if they cannot avoid the upcoming disaster. Sometimes, nearby societies will prepare and gather supplies to help the people that are being affected by the disaster. Some organizations will try to help the best they can during the disaster and get people out of harm's way.[citation needed]

After disaster strikes people tend to act in many different ways. The community as a whole tries to help the affected victims but sometimes a few people can act out of the norm and act in criminal ways. Looting and shootings are often associated with disasters. Many organizations band together and provide relief. Communities eventually learn to adapt to the situation at hand and eventually start to thrive again. After a disaster, a person can change for the better or for the worse. For the better, a person can be a better prep-per for what is to come. For the worse, a person can deal with what happened very differently. After a natural disaster, a person who went through many different scary and unsafe scenarios could deal with PTSD after. PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder means difficulty recovering after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Having this while trying to deal with the aftermath of a disaster could make things so much harder for the one dealing with it. This could lead to people prepping for the next disaster in different ways. For example, buying non-perishables, medical supplies, clothes, or even preparing their house.[citation needed]

Positives of disasters

When populations experience different types of disasters it promotes social change and the coming together of communities in order to help one another. Once a community experiences a disaster they are able to learn and be prepared for the next possible disaster that could happen to them. With an epidemic, a positive of there being one is that when there is a cure found. When people will donate money for getting rid of a disease, everyone who helped with that could gain a sense of pride and accomplishment because they helped find a cure for everyone who was struggling with that disease. We will have it to where if anyone gets infected by that disease again, they won’t have to worry anymore.[citation needed]

Conflict Theory

The best scope to look at disaster's effect on society is through conflict theory. A conflict theorist believes that conflict is meant to happen in order to better society and help people to grow through competition and the inequalities between different people and groups.[citation needed]

Socioeconomic status and disaster

Responding to an areas disaster can depend on many factors including the economic state of that area. Whether or not an area of people is well-off or poor tends to determine how fast they are re-developed and helped after a disaster. Socioeconomic status refers to an individual's position in a stratified social order. This system puts people into groups based on their income and wealth. Those groups consist of Upper Class, Middle Class/ Working Class, and the Lower class/ The Poor. When either of these classes experiences a social disaster there are differences in how well and fast they are helped. If a wealthy community experiences a disaster such as a flood they will most likely receive special treatment due to the way American society treats their poor communities as compared to their wealthy ones.[citation needed]


Urban Cities

Urban areas are especially at risk when it comes to disaster affecting them because of how they are viewed and taken care of by different groups. They also can be seen as more vulnerable due to there being a vast number of people in close proximity. This could also mean that with there being such a big number of people in urban cities. The more likely the community is prepared. One of the biggest disasters to hit an Urban city was the attack on the World Trade Center, or 9/11. Another reason why Urban cities are such a big target is due to the fact that if there is a big city, there is usually something important there. Maybe a government building or a successful business.[citation needed]

Less-Developed Countries

Less-developed countries are more at risk for epidemics. These countries do not always have the right medicine or sanitation for keeping themselves healthy. This makes them more susceptible for getting sick. This can also mean that if these lesser developed countries do acquire an epidemic, it could possibly mean that this sickness could spread to the countries surrounding it, due to not having the necessary materials, or not having the necessary education on what to do when an epidemic presents itself. With Ebola, which started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a lesser developed country, it spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and other surrounding countries where it spread due to the lack of knowledge on what to do and right materials to help treat it. Having lack of resources could mean multiple different things. Another example for it could be if a bad natural disaster happened in a lesser-developed country and the government couldn't provide the right amount of aid or money for the people who were affected by said disaster.[citation needed]

Coastal Cities

Coastal cities, being close to the ocean, are more susceptible to endure hurricanes or hurricane-like weather. Yes, other states close to these coastal ones will be affected by some coastal disasters, but the right next to the oceans will be affected the most. For example, in 2006, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. This was one of the most devastating natural disasters that has ever hit the United States. Another issue for coastal cities is the constant threat of erosion and the rise of sea level. This will always be a threat to people who live next to a body of water. They could always be on a constant level of anxiety for the fact that it could get so bad they will have to move or it could ruin the place they live.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Matthewman, Steve (2015). Disasters, risks and revelation : making sense of our times. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-29426-5. OCLC 922951332.
  2. ^ Herring, Alison (2013), "Sociology of Disaster", in Bobrowsky, Peter T. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards, Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, pp. 926–936, doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-4399-4_326, ISBN 978-90-481-8699-0, retrieved 2021-01-20
  3. ^ Drabek, Thomas E. (2019). The Sociology of Disaster : Fictional Explorations of Human Experiences. Milton: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-65170-6. OCLC 1117636158.
  4. ^ Tierney, Kathleen J. (2019). Disasters : a sociological approach. Cambridge, UK: Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-7101-7. OCLC 1043053190.
  5. ^ Barton AH. 1969. Communities in Disaster: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Stress. Garden City, NY: Doubleday
  6. ^ Drabek TE. 1986. Human System Responses to Disaster. New York: Springer-Verlag
  7. ^ Dynes RR. 1970. Organized Behavior in Disaster. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books
  8. ^ Taylor VA. 1977. Good news about disasters. Psychol. Today 5:93-94
  9. ^ Barry JM. 1997. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. New York: Simon & Schuster
  10. ^ Bolton M. 1997. Recovery for whom? Social conflict after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906-1915. PhD thesis. Univ. Calif., Davis
  11. ^ Fradkin P. 2005. The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press
  12. ^ Henderson AD. 2005. Reconstructing home: gender, disaster relief, and social life after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906-1915. PhD thesis. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA. 278 pp.
  13. ^ Phillips B. 1998. Sheltering and housing of low-income and minority groups in Santa Cruz county after the Loma Prieta earthquake. In The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 11, 1989?Recovery, Mitigation, and Reconstruction, ed. JM Nigg, pp. D17-28. U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 1553D. Washington, DC: USGPO
  14. ^ Kieft, J.; Bendell, J (2021). "The responsibility of communicating difficult truths about climate influenced societal disruption and collapse: an introduction to psychological research". Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) Occasional Papers. 7: 1–39.
  15. ^ Fischer, Henry W. (March 2003). "The Sociology of Disaster: Definitions, Research Questions, and Measurements. Continuation of the Discussion in a Post-September 11 Environment". International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. 21 (1): 91–107. ProQuest 60461618.


External Sources

  • Burton, Christopher; Mitchell, Jerry T.; Cutter, Susan L. (July 2011). "Evaluating post-Katrina recovery in Mississippi using repeat photography". Disasters. 35 (3): 488–509. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7717.2010.01227.x.
  • Kammerbauer, Mark (July 2013). "'Schismo-urbanism': cities, natural disaster, and urban sociology". Disasters. 37 (3): 401–419. doi:10.1111/disa.12005. PMID 23601041.
  • Rahman, Md Intekhab Ur (2017). "Disaster and post-traumatic stress: A psychological study". Indian Journal of Health & Wellbeing. 8 (9): 1064–1067. ProQuest 1961771304.
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Sociology of disaster
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