"A Katrina Lexicon - How we talk about a disaster so monumental we can’t agree on what to call it," Places Journal
Disasters, which by definition are social experiences, invigorate the human need to communicate. This is clearly the case during the rescue phase, when mismatched radio frequencies or murmurs from beneath the rubble can spell the difference between life and death. But our speech grows even more trenchant during the recovery and rebuilding phases, as grievances are addressed, restitutions (if any) are negotiated, claims to victimhood are laid (or questioned), and players maneuver for position in a supposed zero-sum game, where one’s successful recompense lowers the chances of another’s. This agitated discourse yields a vocabulary of names, idioms, metaphors, acronyms, jargon, rhetorical devices, and narratives — few of them universally shared and many ferociously contested even years later.
Here I examine the lexicon of Hurricane Katrina during its first ten years as a “spoken language” — a dialect — of greater New Orleans and the Gulf South region of the United States, with an emphasis on how speakers have disputed the naming (onomatology) of the incident, how they have crafted metaphors and other linguistic devices to discuss post-trauma topics, and how people outside of the victim/stakeholder population have used Katrina rhetorically to advance other agendas. As a geographer who has studied and written about New Orleans for two decades as well as a New Orleanian who witnessed the catastrophe and participated in the recovery, I have played the roles of speaker, documenter, and coiner of the Katrina lexicon. I am well aware that the writing of this article requires that I hopscotch between and among these roles, and in some cases that I “resolve” the very linguistic tensions I present as unresolved, including the use of the word “Katrina” in the title... Full Article Here
"The Laissez Faire Rebuilding Strategy Was Exactly That,” New Geography Journal
Urban risk may be understood as a function of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability.1 In metro New Orleans, Katrina-like storm surges constitute the premier hazard (threat); the exposure variable entails human occupancy of hazard-prone spaces; and vulnerability implies the ability to respond resiliently and adaptively—which itself is a function of education, income, age, social capital, and other factors—after having been exposed to the hazard.
This essay measures the extent to which, after the catastrophic deluge triggered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, residents of metro New Orleans have shifted their settlement patterns and how these movements may affect future urban risk.2 What comes to light is that, at least in terms of residential settlement geographies, the laissez faire rebuilding strategy for flooded neighborhoods proved to be exactly that... Full Article Here