Finding Order in Disorder: Continuities in the 9-11 Response

November 2003 (VOL. 21, NO. 3)

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The events of September 11th in the United States prompted speculation about the capacity of modern societies to deal with such collective traumas. Here, comparisons are made to past situations, primarily Hamburg after intensive bombing in 1943. Such comparisons indicate immediate and persistent efforts to re-establish the continuity of social life. Such continuity is in contrast to popular images of individual and collective disorganization as well as the presumption that urban areas are especially fragile. After 9/11, effective efforts were frequently attributed to American exceptionalism. While the social sciences have a number if concepts to deal with social disorganization, there are fewer to characterize stability and adaptability. Illustrations of the importance of social capital and organizational resilience in the New York case are offered. By contrast, post 9/11 discussions have often been dominated by the recycling of disaster myths, especially the belief in widespread panic, the necessity of command and control and the assumption that “people” are the primary problem. Many of those ideas have since become embedded in the implementation of “homeland security.”