“You fix my community, you have fixed my life”: The disruption and rebuilding of ontological security in New Orleans

Hawkins, R. L. & Maurer, K.
Disasters: Journal of Policy & Management, 35(1), 143 – 159.

Using the concept of ontological security, this paper examines the physical and psychological loss of home and community following Hurricane Katrina. This qualitative longitudinal study includes 40 heads of households with school-age children who lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Participants describe a breakdown in their social fabric at the individual and structural/community levels that contributes to a sense of community loss and social displacement, disrupting their ontological security--their notion of safety, routine and trust in a stable environment. Three interrelated reactions were common: 1) experiencing nostalgia for their old neighbourhoods specifically and New Orleans in general; 2) experiencing a sense of loss of people and things that represented a level of security or constancy; 3) initiation of a process for re-establishing ontological security whether or not they returned to New Orleans. The paper concludes that intangible losses have an important psychological effect on community redevelopment and recovery from trauma.

Wagner Faculty