Methods of Disaster Research: Unique or Not?

March 1997 (VOL. 15, NO. 1)

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Ten years ago, at the end of his review if research methods in the sociology of disaster, Dennis Mileti wrote: “In conclusion, and from a methodological viewpoint, disaster research is hardly distinguishable from the general sociological enterprise” (Mileti 1987, o.69). The topics covered in the papers in this collection — survey research, historical methods, qualitative research, etc. — support this conclusion. The types if methods used in social science research on disasters are not unique. Yet, people well-trained and with experience in survey research or qualitative methods will find that the study of disasters is different. The difference does not lie in knowledge of the subject; such knowledge is no more important in the field of disaster studies than in any other. What makes disaster research unique is the circumstances in which otherwise conventional methods of research that makes disaster research unique. It follows then that the uniqueness of the circumstances of research varies as a function of the stage of the disaster process one is studying. Research on responses immediately before, during, and immediately after impact occurs in a different context that does research on long-term trends in governmental expenditures for disaster relief, for example. It further follows that the collection and analysis of primary data are more affected by the disaster context than the collection and analysis of collection and analysis if secondary data, when disaster phase is held constant, they need training in research methods in general (e.g., survey research or qualitative methods); and second, they need training in how, specifically, the circumstances surrounding disaster affect the implementation of these research methods. The following collection of papers, written by some of the leading practitioners of these methods of disaster research, provides materials to meet the second of these needs.