Beyond Disaster Exceptionalism: Social Movement Developments in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina


Since Hurricane Katrina, grassroots social justice activists in New Orleans have organized for a just reconstruction. This research maps two generations of movement response to Katrina. The first was directed at the immediate conditions following the hurricane, especially post-disaster policy. The second targets the broader social problems that turned the hurricane into a disaster. Three emergent movement orientations characterize the second generation of movement activity: a social constructionist approach that rejects disaster exceptionalism, a strategic synthesis of service provision and community organizing, and a human rights framework. Hurricane Gustav, which struck Louisiana in 2008, was the first significant storm threat to the region since 2005. It is used as a case study to demonstrate the way in which the three emergent orientations inform a new disaster action repertoire. The analysis is based on three and a half years of participant observation, interviews, and movement literature.