“Studying Up” on Women and Disaster:An Elite Sustained Women’s Group Following Hurricane Katrina

August 2010 (VOL. 28, NO. 2)

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Existing research on gender and disaster has examined how women with limited socio-economic resources organize to manage risk and to engage in disaster-related response and recovery activities. However, as Enarson, Fothergill, and Peek (2007) have argued, “in-depth class analysis is still relatively rare in gender-focused disaster research.” Drawing on an ethnographic case study of a women’s group that self-organized following Hurricane Katrina, the author examines how affluent, philanthropic women mobilized social, economic, and cultural resources to respond to catastrophe and to engage in community-based recovery efforts. The author applies the concept of an “elite-sustained movement” (Taylor 1994) to understand how elite women mobilize socio-economic resources to respond to disaster and how resources at elite members’ reach contribute to the group’s continuance across phases of the disaster cycle. The author concludes with a theoretical and methodological discussion of “studying up” on relations of power in disaster.