THE SOCIOLOGICAL DETERMINATION: GATHERING DATA ON NEW ORLEANS RESIDENTS AFTER HURRICANE KATRINAView Presentation
James R Elliott, University of Oregon
Keywords: disaster, spatial sampling, displaced populations
When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, it rekindled scholarly interest in disasters and the study of suddenly hard-to-reach populations. Resulting studies show how survey research can improve understanding of modern day disasters and, conversely, how disasters can inform understanding of social organization and inequality. Less evident in this literature, however, are professional accounts of the obstacles that researchers negotiate to collect the survey data they need to move from imagination to analysis, or from conceptualization to execution. We believe this gap deserves more explicit attention because collecting survey data on disasters often involves collecting survey data in disasters, which can complicate best professional practices. These conditions simultaneously attract and complicate empirically grounded research for all investigators but especially for those living in the affected region, who must also adjust to their own disrupted personal and professional lives. These complexities not only limit funding to local institutions and researchers who could help revive the intellectual infrastructure of the affected area but also lead to data collection strategies that lack nuanced understanding of the local populations under investigation. This is why local participation is critical. Along these lines, our paper tackles the problem of generating a representative sample of residents from local neighborhoods. It renders explicit the challenges we faced as local residents, decisions made, data collected, and biases and lessons learned in hopes of informing similar efforts in similarly devastated areas with suddenly hard-to-reach populations. Later we discuss the ethical, methodological, and epistemological tensions addressed and provide a reflexive discussion of our approach’s strengths and weaknesses.