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Racialized Disaster Patriarchy: An Intersectional Model for Understanding Disaster Ten Years After Hurricane Katrina



The year 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall just outside of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Critical narratives point to the glaring racial and economic inequality that contextualized the catastrophe. However, most Katrina discourse has been limited by its neglect of intersectional feminist analysis. In this article I introduce a model for making intersectional sense of Hurricane Katrina with lessons for the study of other disasters. By intersectional I mean a gender- and race-conscious framework that exposes the way in which structural sexism and racism came together to produce the disaster and even the social justice response to it. Following Naomi Klein’s (2005) use of the term “disaster capitalism,” I call the intersectional formation “racialized disaster patriarchy” as it refers to political, institutional, organizational, and cultural practices that converge before, during, and after disaster to produce injustice. Disaster patriarchy links the intersectional experience of disaster to the experience of recovery and the politics of the grassroots social movement for a just reconstruction.
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© Feminist Formations, Vol.  No.  (Summer) pp. –
Racialized Disaster Patriarchy:
An Intersectional Model for
Understanding Disaster Ten Years after
Hurricane Katrina
Rachel E. Luft
The year 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which made
landfall just outside of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Critical narratives point
to the glaring racial and economic inequality that contextualized the catastrophe.
However, most Katrina discourse has been limited by its neglect of intersectional
feminist analysis. In this article I introduce a model for making intersectional sense
of Hurricane Katrina with lessons for the study of other disasters. By intersectional
I mean a gender- and race-conscious framework that exposes the way in which
structural sexism and racism came together to produce the disaster and even the
social justice response to it. Following Naomi Klein’s (2005) use of the term “disaster
capitalism,” I call the intersectional formation “racialized disaster patriarchy” as it
refers to political, institutional, organizational, and cultural practices that converge
before, during, and after disaster to produce injustice. Disaster patriarchy links the
intersectional experience of disaster to the experience of recovery and the politics of
the grassroots social movement for a just reconstruction.
Keywords: disaster / gender / Hurricane Katrina / intersectionality /
patriarchy / race / social movements
It has been just over ten years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall outside
of New Orleans on August , . The storm displaced a million and a half
people from the region, ooded  percent of the city, and cost  billion in
total damages (Plyer ). Narratives of the storm, both those that emerged
 · Feminist Formations .
while the catastrophe was unfolding and those that have explored the ongoing
aftermath, have frequently pointed to the glaring racial and economic inequality
that contextualized the catastrophe.
The emphasis has been a critical corrective
to the pervasive racist colorblindness that helped produce such devastating con-
sequences. Unfortunately, however, most of the discourse has also been limited
by its neglect of substantive feminist, intersectional analysis. In this article I
introduce a model for making intersectional sense of Hurricane Katrina with
lessons for the study of other disasters. By intersectional I mean a gender- and
race-conscious framework that exposes the way in which structural sexism and
racism came together to produce the disaster and even the social justice response
to it. My aim is to bring gender more fully into Katrina analysis—and by exten-
sion that of other disasters—in a way that demonstrates its deeply racialized
organization. I hope to move beyond the pitting of gender and race against each
other, which has often characterized critical scholarship and which threatened
efforts in New Orleans to respond to the disaster intersectionally. Similarly I
want to avoid the xation with any one population that has informed sexist
and racist discussions of the disaster and even most of those that have sought
an intersectional analysis—the ubiquitous iconographic metonym for Hurri-
cane Katrina has been the bodies of poor Black women—in order to describe
more fully the multiple and interacting positionalities, forces, and engagements
that constituted the intersectional disaster in a complex matrix of domination
(Collins ). Ultimately this project seeks to explore the deeply gendered and
racialized system in which people attempt to survive, resist, and explain crisis.
I was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck, teaching at the
University of New Orleans. As a white feminist woman, I had been involved in
movements for racial justice for years. In January , a few months after the
ood waters were pumped out of the city, I was conducting participant obser-
vation in Common Ground, a radical grassroots recovery effort. I was part of
the Antiracism Working Group and we were organizing within the grassroots
network to advance racial justice.
As I have described elsewhere, activists began to identify a “pervasive
culture of masculinity,” not only in the mainstream recovery efforts but also
in post-Katrina social movement groups (Luft , ). The valorization of
physical labor, a militarized environment both within and beyond movement
encampments, and the disproportionate number of men in a city still lacking
basic infrastructure contributed to a palpable climate I called “disaster masculin-
ity” that spanned racial groups (). There was a tremendous amount of racism
running through the recovery and movement networks as well, but the activists
had come together explicitly to ght against it, and even mainstream reactions
to the disaster were often race- conscious in a city and a disaster in which the
role of race had become undeniable. I wondered at the forces that made single-
issue approaches to race for understanding what had happened so much more
salient than gender or intersectionality
—both for people on the ground and for
Rachel E. Luft · 
scholars writing about it—as well as at the ongoing investment in presenting
gender and race analyses as mutually exclusive. Why was gender—and therefore
a gender- and race-conscious intersectional analysis—deniable?
As the years went by I realized that something much broader and more
systemic than gendered culture was at work in the post-disaster environment.
Furthermore, it became clear that it was not only the critical signicance of race
that was contributing to the proliferation of single-issue frameworks. Indeed,
the race-only models that were dominant were inected with their own kind
of racist sexism in centering some kinds of bodies and frameworks over others.
There were larger structural forces that were producing both the disaster and
the terms for understanding it. I call this complex racialized disaster patriar-
chy, following independent journalist Naomi Klein’s use of the term “disaster
capitalism” (). Racialized disaster patriarchy is deeply intersectional in its
mututally-constructing, inseparable, gendered, racialized, and economic compo-
nents. I have centered the formation patriarchy because of the disproportionate
way in which gender has been neglected and repressed in the framing of the
catastrophe. For this reason I prefer it over the equally apt phrase “patriarchal
disaster white supremacy,” and the even more appropriate—if also more techni-
cal— “racialized, patriarchal, disaster intersectionality.” The elision of feminist
gender analysis is a familiar sexist pattern, but it is also the result of another kind
of crisis: the still-anxious intersection of both feminism and racial justice, and
sexism and racism, in progressive scholarship and social justice activism alike.
Because this conjuncture has implications for post-disaster recovery, resistance,
and analysis, it is part of the machinery of disaster patriarchy. Racialized disas-
ter patriarchy, therefore, is an intersectional model that centers gender where
gender (sexism, feminism) is produced in interaction with race (racism, antira-
cism). Disaster patriarchy describes the disaster of patriarchy and the patriarchy
of disaster, where patriarchy is not a name for the oppression of white women
but an intersectional formation of racialized gender injustice. In this system
there are patterned roles for women and men of color and for white women and
men. Racialized disaster patriarchy refers to political, institutional, organizational,
and cultural practices that converge before, during, and after disaster to produce
intersectional gender injustice.3
In this article I introduce disaster patriarchy to explain the intersectional
dimensions of at least one major disaster in the twenty-rst century. Some of the
practices that constitute it are particular to disaster; some are not, but interact
with disaster-specic forces and events. I give extra attention to the progressive
social movement that emerged after the disaster because of its role as a network
of resistance. It too was constrained by disaster patriarchy. The analysis seeks
to reveal the many forces that come together to produce structural and cultural
barriers to post-disaster feminist, racial justice.
I begin with a methods section that describes more of how I arrived at this
approach over the course of my eldwork in New Orleans. Then I explain my
 · Feminist Formations .
use of the term “patriarchy,” introduce Klein’s notion of disaster capitalism, and
offer racialized disaster patriarchy as a complementary sister model. This is fol-
lowed by three substantive sections on the constitutive components of disaster
patriarchy: the intersectional construction of disaster, and of Hurricane Katrina
in particular, with an emphasis on its undertheorized gendered dimension; the
intersectional construction of recovery, and of the recovery from Hurricane
Katrina in particular, with an emphasis on its undertheorized gendered dimen-
sion; and the intersectional social movement response to Hurricane Katrina,
with lessons for other movements, with an emphasis on its undertheorized
gendered dimension. In these sections I assume an intersectional framework
developed by feminists of color (Collins ; Crenshaw ; Roth ; Luft
and Ward ; Arvin, Tuck, and Merrill ), draw from feminist disaster
literature that is undertheorized regarding US racial formation, and contribute
empirical ndings from my case study of New Orleans after the storm. Disaster
patriarchy is a model that emerges at the conjuncture of several scholarly and
political traditions; it describes one historical disaster while establishing a
framework that might be used more broadly.
I moved to New Orleans in  to take a job as Assistant Professor of Sociol-
ogy; my work was in race, gender, and social movements. I had just completed
a dissertation on racial justice movements, and one of my case studies, The
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an antiracism movement organiza-
tion, happened to be headquartered in New Orleans. Over the course of my
dissertation eldwork, I had begun to work with them as a resource trainer.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck, while I was still in evacuation, Institute
organizers invited me to join the race-focused social movement response to the
storm. I remained engaged in this work for six years. During this time, thanks
to insights shared by other activists, I began to understand the profoundly
gendered dimensions of the disaster experience that had been, for me too, less
apparent than its racialization, and I also became aware of the repression of
feminist recovery efforts. It became clear that gender and race intersectionality
was a necessary framework for a just and successful analysis and intervention.
Disaster patriarchy is a model that seeks to highlight gender as a corrective to
the neglect of intersectional feminist scholarly and movement responses. It is
an effort to pull together a decade of post-Katrina experience into a coherent
framework in order to demonstrate that neither good disaster scholarship nor
gender or racial justice are possible without an intersectional approach.
I conducted participant observation in post-Katrina movement groups from
Fall  until . I participated in thousands of hours of movement meet-
ings, strategy sessions, and tasks; co-organized racial justice education train-
ings for volunteers; and facilitated leadership development of young activists.
Rachel E. Luft · 
With support from the Social Science Research Council, I interviewed or held
focus groups with forty-one movement leaders or activists, plus seven others
who worked in non-prot or related capacities, for a total of forty-eight. There
were eighteen Black women, eight Black men, twelve white women, one white
genderqueer person, six white men, two Latinas, and one Latino. Thirty were
themselves hurricane survivors, and eighteen were non-locals who came to New
Orleans after the hurricane.
Down With Patriarchy. Bring Back Patriarchy
The concept of patriarchy had its peak in the second wave of the women’s
movement. Building on more than a century of analysis of gender and sexism—
though not on the “proto-intersectional” work of feminists of color (Gines
; Luft and Ward )—mostly white second-wave scholars and activists
sought to go beyond analysis of sexism to the production of a systematic theory
of patriarchy. Patriarchy describes four domains of domination: signication, or
the symbolic hierarchical engendering of bodies, meanings, and relations, with
men and masculinity valued over everything else; reproduction, or the regulation
of procreation and sexuality; labor, or the exploitation of un- and underpaid
work through coercion and mystication; and violence, or the patterned use of
emotional and physical harm and threat of harm enabled by gendered cultures
and structures (Ebert , ; Jane Ward, pers. comm., April ; see also
Beechey ). The concept fell out of favor in the subsequent two generations
primarily due to two kinds of important critique that can be broadly identied
as intersectional and poststructuralist. The intersectional challenge, leveled
mostly by feminists of color, demonstrated that patriarchy was too singular and
reductive a model that did not take into account gender’s intersection with race,
class, sexuality, nation, and other forms of political power (Combahee []
; Collins ; Crenshaw ; Roth ; Luft and Ward ). Without
making explicit these important interactions, patriarchy falsely universalizes
white middle-class heterosexual women’s experiences and obscures other forms
of difference. Poststructuralist arguments build on the deconstruction of the
subject by asking if the categories “women” and “men” are coherent enough
to theorize (Mann ). They also draw on Foucault’s analysis of power by
rejecting a top-down model and replacing it with an understanding of power
as multidirectional, calling into question the notion of male rule, a position
that converges with intersectional critiques (Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill ).
These challenges to the conceptualization of patriarchy have been signicant
cautions and correctives.
Today, forty years into the destabilization of the notion of patriarchy from
within, intersectional, race-conscious, multiracial feminist activism is in a pre-
dicament. Racism, false universalizing, and reication continue to plague main-
stream feminism. Meanwhile, the steady critiques have cultivated ambivalence
 · Feminist Formations .
among activists who are otherwise sympathetic to concerns about gender and
power. As early as , Veronica Beechey warned that “if the concept [patriar-
chy] is to be abandoned, it is essential that we nd some other more satisfactory
way of conceptualizing male domination and female subordination” ().
Without a systemic, racialized understanding of patriarchy and an inter-
sectional feminism that opposes it, patriarchy goes unchecked. Fieldwork after
Hurricane Katrina suggests that in the absence of anti-patriarchal practices,
disaster and disaster recovery advance racialized gender injustice. Gender injus-
tice, in turn, furthers racism, which is itself gendered. This outcome extends to
the social justice movement response as well; the abdication of anti-patriarchal
practice, in this case enabled by years of both racist feminism and sexist racial
justice, has material effects. This project seeks to expose the consequences—
both unintended and very intended—of these overlapping theoretical and social
movement developments in order to make a case for renewed, intersectional,
antiracist, anti-patriarchal work. The re-pivoting of “feminism” and “patriar-
chy” to their intersectional iterations refuses to cede the concern with gender
to parochial versions.
Disaster Capitalism
This project takes as its point of departure Naomi Klein’s (, ) ground-
breaking notion of “disaster capitalism.” Klein argues that occasions of large-
scale social trauma have been seized by government-corporate partnerships as
opportunities for dramatic neo-liberal incursions. Disaster capitalism refers to
the collusion of public and private practices before, during, and after disaster,
which outsource and privatize critical services and reconstruction for prot,
using the “shock” of crisis to dismantle the goods and rights of the public sphere.
Disaster capitalism “eclipse[s] the principle that citizens qua citizens are entitled
to protection, relief, and restitution in the event of disaster” (de Waal, qtd. in
Gunewardena and Schuller , xi). Klein’s framework encompasses national
and transnational political and economic catastrophe as well as natural and
technological disaster.
Disaster capitalism is a powerful lens through which to understand how
disaster becomes a political and economic opportunity for neoliberal social
engineering. The framework resonated quickly with activists in New Orleans
after Katrina. It is a model of political economy that at times acknowledges
racialized outcomes. Unfortunately, gender is not part of the analysis, and
therefore the more richly intersectional—economic, racial, gendered—way
in which complex inequality is reproduced in disaster and experienced by
differently situated people is also missing.
Racialized disaster patriarchy as a phenomenon intersects with disaster
capitalism; as a model it is analogous to it. There are three primary ways
in which disaster patriarchy differs from disaster capitalism. The rst is by
Rachel E. Luft · 
centering gender instead of political economy and placing it in an explicitly
intersectional framework that also emphasizes race. The second is by focusing
on organizational and network practices and pathways, circuits through which
gender so frequently courses. Where Klein’s analysis is macro and transnational,
a register well suited to political economy, racialized disaster patriarchy is also
meso- and micro-level, for these are critical strata for the study of gender. The
third difference is that while disaster capitalism is about the radical reengineer-
ing of society, disaster patriarchy is about retrenchment. Disaster capitalism is
facilitated by shock and framed by the rhetoric of opportunity: “clean sheet,
“laboratory,” “new leap” (Klein , –, ). Disaster capitalism is a dramatic
lurch in a new direction, for it is “‘[o]nly a crisis—actual or perceived,’” according
to free-market champion and disaster capitalism architect Milton Friedman, that
“‘produces real change ... [when] the politically impossible becomes politically
inevitable’” (). Disaster patriarchy, by contrast, is disastrous by degree, not
different in kind. Disaster patriarchy returns to the most regressive elements
of gender that are still embedded in social life and reanimates them. Disaster
patriarchy as a model reveals not the radically new, but rather the way in which
racialized patriarchy has been the underlying logic all along. Disaster simply
unleashes, concentrates, and justies its more prominent resurgence.
Toward an Intersectional Model of Disaster:
Racialized Disaster Patriarchy
In this section I present racialized disaster patriarchy as an intersectional model
that describes gender, racial, and economic practices that converge before,
during, and after disaster to produce intersectional injustice. As most of the
critical scholarship and grassroots practice after Hurricane Katrina centered race
and class, and as Klein’s invaluable framework was rooted in political economy
with an acknowledgement of race, I emphasize gender in this layout in order
to (re)establish it as crucial to the understanding of this and other disasters.
While much of this discussion takes the prosaic form of adding gender to the
conversation because of its glaring omission, the point is the interactive effect
that is, as Black feminists have been saying for over a century, more than the
sum of its parts.
The Gendered (Intersectional) Construction of Disaster
The social construction of disaster is a foundational concept in the sociology
of disaster (Phillips et al. ; Wisner et al. [] ). Since the s,
scholars have argued that “disasters are fundamentally human constructs that
reect the global distribution of power and human uses of our natural and
built environments” (Enarson, Fothergill, and Peek , ). Explains Elaine
Enarson, “[T]here is nothing ‘natural’ about what we call disasters. Disasters
are fundamentally social events with long histories deeply rooted in human,
 · Feminist Formations .
economic, social, environmental and political choices about human and envi-
ronmental development” (, ). Race appears in disaster literature as a
category of “social vulnerability,” predominantly in scholarship on the global
South; disaster studies of the United States rarely employ critical race theory.
Only since the s has the constructionist approach to disaster and social
vulnerability been systematically deepened by critical feminist interventions
that bring an explicitly gendered lens. The trailblazing research of gender and
disaster scholars has revealed the highly gendered construction and experi-
ence of so-called natural disaster (Enarson and Morrow ; Bystydzienski,
Suchland, and Wanzo .) As with the larger eld, feminist disaster literature
primarily addresses race outside of the US context.
While gender and disaster research has been a signicant advance, most of
the literature has focused on how differently gendered people—almost always
women and men in a gender binary, and overwhelmingly women in a eld
that still equates gender with females4—experience disaster differently. Rarely
has it gone beyond the gender of people to examine the gendered meanings of
decisions, arrangements, and practices. Most gender and disaster literature, in
other words, puts gendered bodies at the center, rather than centering gender
as a political and analytical force. Disaster patriarchy is an attempt to move
beyond the experience of women and men in disaster in order to understand
the ways in which gendered patterns help to produce disasters and how part of
what is disastrous is patriarchy. Disaster patriarchy begins with the patterned
gendered experience of people, but also seeks to uncover the gendered produc-
tion of and consequences for social processes that run through and beyond
gendered bodies. If gender analysis is “an examination of the rules, laws, and
institutional arrangements of social groups” (Ferree, Lorber, and Hess ,
xxii), then disaster patriarchy is an analysis of the gendered rules, laws, and
institutional arrangements that produce and are produced by disaster.
The gendered (intersectional) construction of Hurricane Katrina
Feminist analysis of disaster has produced an inventory of the gendered patterns
that emerge in disaster. This section is a very brief overview of these ndings,
which is almost entirely missing from critical race Hurricane Katrina analysis.
Disaster occurs and is experienced in profoundly gendered ways. Women tend
to want to evacuate disasters sooner than men, for example, turning evacuation
into a negotiation or a male privilege when it is men who control resources or
decisions within a family (Laska et al. , ). As personal and professional
caregivers, women undertaking disaster preparations and evacuations are often
responsible for the most vulnerable members of society: children, the elderly,
the sick, and the disabled. Prolonged displacement, as in the case of Katrina,
means women do the bulk of navigating the basic infrastructure of daily life
for themselves and their families: shelter, food, medical care, and education for
children. Scholars have tracked the rise in domestic violence after disasters
Rachel E. Luft · 
(Enarson, Fothergill, and Peek , ). Policy sometimes facilitates this;
because FEMA distributes emergency funds to households and not to individu-
als, for example, abusive or estranged male partners are able to receive women’s
share of critical post-disaster life support. While we do not have measures of
state violence, the militarization that follows major disasters like Katrina might
well lead to increased violent encounters between law enforcement ofcials and
women and gender non-conforming people. Almost every dimension of disaster
experience is mediated by economic resources, which are also gendered and
racialized: housing vulnerability, disaster preparedness, evacuation transporta-
tion, use of public or private shelter, access to quality medical care, employment
benets, and post-disaster employment.
As with other disasters, then, the way in which the wind and water of Hur-
ricane Katrina became disastrous was a social process that was deeply gendered
as well as raced and classed. The storm exacerbated already-existing gendered
social structures, identities, social arrangements, and power dynamics, producing
highly gendered effects in a heavily racialized, economically stratied context.
Enarson notes that these conditions were understood before Katrina struck
and the outcomes should not have been surprising: “These were critical things
to know about community-wide and household vulnerabilities and capacities,
and bear directly on preparedness and impact as well as recovery. It was there
for the looking—and mostly, we didn’t” (, ).
Intersectionality is contextual: New Orleans, August 2005
The gendered dimensions of disaster interacted with the specic racialized and
economic features of New Orleans to produce Hurricane Katrina. The racial
and economic make-up of the city meant that a sizeable percentage of women
residents were Black and low income: New Orleans was  percent Black before
Katrina with a  percent poverty rate (compared to . percent nationally).
Female-headed households had more than twice the poverty rate than the
national average for similar families:  percent compared to  percent (Laska
et al. , ). In a region partly under sea level, elevation is destiny. Overlay-
ing maps of the city reveals the high correlation between Black female-headed
households, ood-prone communities, and neighborhoods with low levels of
vehicle ownership, meaning Black women and their families had a lower likeli-
hood of self-evacuation pre-disaster and a higher likelihood of greater household
damage (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center ).
High levels of extreme poverty in New Orleans are partly due to its gen-
dered, racialized service and tourism economy. Before  many women were
employed in this sector, which was heavily impacted for years following the hur-
ricane. Women were also overrepresented in the informal economy as domestic
and childcare workers, other occupations that dwindled to almost nothing after
the storm (Laska et al. , ). Conversely, after the hurricane, disaster-related
paid labor was overwhelmingly gendered male: relief and recovery, security, and
 · Feminist Formations .
construction. Between  and , women’s incomes on average increased by
just . percent, while men’s incomes increased by  percent (Wilinger , ).
The convergence of post-disaster elements—heavily compromised basic
infrastructure as well as whole sectors that were signicantly damaged—meant
there were more obstacles facing women’s return than men’s. Rates of return
have been overwhelmingly described in racial and economic terms (Adams ;
Rose and Tuggle ). But it was Black women in particular who returned to
the city in smaller numbers than other groups; for many dozens of thousands,
the displacement is ongoing (Helmuth and Henrici ).
The Gendered (Intersectional) Construction of Recovery
Disaster recovery refers to the collection of policies and practices that remake
institutions and the social contract after crisis. As Klein and others have
demonstrated, recovery is the stage of disaster in which disaster capitalism
accomplishes most of its work, literally laying the foundation for long term social
remaking (Gunewardena and Schuller ). At the center of the analysis is the
way in which disaster becomes an opportunity for severe and accelerated social
engineering. Important work in the last decade has demonstrated how disaster
capitalism is deeply racialized (see especially Adams ). Disaster patriarchy
builds on disaster capitalism by demonstrating how disaster capitalism is also
gendered, not in additive but in interactive ways. The ofcial recovery of New
Orleans—by which I mean institutionally driven state, corporate, and non-prot
efforts—had signicant gendered, intersectional effects.
In this section I focus on the radical dismantling of the public sphere after
Katrina as an exemplar of recovery processes. Though feminist scholars have
long pointed to the public sector as a gendered domain, the gendered implica-
tions of Katrina’s devolution have rarely been noted (for exceptions see Pardee
 and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research []).
What follows is a brief overview of the primary public sites of post-Katrina
remaking: public housing, public health care, and public education. Within
months of the hurricane the groundwork was laid, in each case, for their dissolu-
tion. The dismembering of these sectors had severe consequences for women’s
lives and for gendered, racialized arrangements.
The big four housing developments
The determination by local and national ofcials to demolish and redevelop
four of New Orleans’s ten public housing developments in  was a remark-
able choice in a region staggering from large-scale loss of viable housing. FEMA
estimated that  percent of the housing stock in Orleans Parish was damaged
by Katrina and the subsequent ooding, of which  percent was severely dam-
aged (Rose and Tuggle ). HUD’s  decision to tear down , units of
public low-income housing came as a shock to many in the reeling city. While
the move triggered local and national resistance efforts by grassroots activists
Rachel E. Luft · 
and national politicians alike, in December  the New Orleans City Coun-
cil voted to support HUD’s ruling. The decision meant that the developments
would be out of commission for the duration of the renovation, would see a
drop in net housing, and an even greater drop in housing at deep affordability.
The determination to turn a sizeable portion of New Orleans’s public hous-
ing into mixed-income units was one part of a multi-pronged, decentralized
housing recovery response driven by public-private partnerships that determined
nothing less than who could (re)nd shelter at home. The decisions are an exam-
ple of the way in which disaster capitalism bypasses normal protocols—HOPE
VI in this case—for policy change. Many researchers and grassroots activists
have commented on their racial and economic implications (Rose and Tuggle
; Graham ). “Virtually %” of New Orleans public housing residents
were Black (Quigley and Godchaux ); public investment in racialized, low-
income housing had been tacit recognition of racial and economic inequality.
As important social, cultural, social capital, and political centers of Black life,
public housing was a meaningful presence in New Orleans (Quigley and God-
chaux; Crawford and Russell ; Nelson ). The gendered dimension of
public housing, however, and therefore of the gendered displacement that was
recovery capitalism, was rarely addressed during the movement to resist it. But
housing is always a “gendered phenomenon because women’s access to a safe
home is mediated by men, children, a gendered labor market, and gendered
housing and welfare policy” (Luft with Grifn , –).
Of the , leaseholders of units in the four developments in August ,
the vast majority were women who served as the residential anchor for immedi-
ate and extended family members. The centrality of these homes for low-income
people in the community was captured, ironically, in the local tradition of non-
public housing New Orleanians heading to one of the developments for cover
during a hurricane—as they did for Katrina—as the best option for sheltering
in place for people who could not afford to evacuate. Public housing, in other
words, was a magnetic center for networks of Black, low-income, female-headed
households in New Orleans. Demolition of public housing meant that some
of the city’s poorest women were unable to return to the city and that their
extended families were disrupted. The decision to demolish signaled the end of
a sixty-ve-year public commitment to housing an increasingly Black, female,
poor population. Since then, every single public housing development in New
Orleans has been partially or entirely replaced with vouchers, constituting major
steps on the path toward privatization of the public housing sector.
Charity Hospital
The Reverend Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital, lovingly referred to as
“Charity” by New Orleanians, was established in  and was one of the two
oldest public hospitals in the country. At the time of Katrina, Charity was the
primary trauma center in Southeast Louisiana. The hospital served people at
 · Feminist Formations .
 percent of the federal poverty level, functioning as the only source of care
for many New Orleans residents. In , before the storm, . percent of its
patients were Black (Ott , ). Public healthcare was also gendered both
in terms of its constituency, or patients served, and as a labor sector. A majority
of inpatients and almost two thirds of outpatients were women, mostly Black
(K.Brad Ott, pers. comm., September, ). Further, women disproportion-
ately navigate health care for their families. Of the hospital’s , employees,
, were nurses, and because nursing and hospital administration is a heavily
pink-collared sector, we should assume that well over two thirds of the hospital
workforce was women ().
When the levees failed, Charity Hospital ooded; its electrical switchgears
were located in the basement, sinking the facility into desperate, fetid condi-
tions. Soon after belated evacuations, nearly three quarters of the employees
were red. After years of negotiation between Louisiana State University
ofcials, state ofcials, and FEMA, plans were made to close Charity perma-
nently and build a new teaching hospital. Back in  observers could read
the writing on the wall: “Charity has from the beginning been a symbol of a
social commitment to the poor, and its wards are empty at a moment when
thousands of poor New Orleans residents are struggling to return home and
fear that government has abandoned them. In many ways, the debate over its
future parallels that of New Orleans itself, as it chooses whether to become a
more middle-class city or return to earlier traditions” (Adam Nossiter, qtd. in
Ott , ). The decision to shutter Charity “supplanted Charity’s historic
safety net mission with the attempted medical neoliberal transformation of its
physical, nancial, institutional and cultural assets” (Ott , ; emphasis
in the original). K. Brad Ott, in his excellent Master’s Thesis on the destruc-
tion of Charity Hospital, notes the signicant race and class implications of
this disaster capitalist decision. However, the profoundly gendered dimension
of the impact in terms of both constituency and labor has hardly even been
articulated as an issue.
Public education
As with healthcare, education is gendered, both in terms of those who interact
with the system on behalf of its constituency and in terms of employment.
Within months of the storm, in Fall , the Louisiana legislature and
Governor Kathleen Blanco overhauled state education law through a series
of Executive Orders and new legislation (Buras ). Designed to move from
a centralized public school model to a choice, market-based approach based
on charter schools, New Orleans’s new school system soon became the most
heavily chartered in the country. The transformation of New Orleans’s public
schools marginalized local, mostly Black women teachers; went a long way
toward privatizing education, moving it from being a public good to a busi-
ness venture; disabled an emphasis on place-based and local knowledge; and
Rachel E. Luft · 
disproportionately affected women as those who mediate children’s education
(Buras ). Camille Wilson Cooper demonstrates that “the notion of posi-
tioned school choice conceptualizes a highly subjective parental school choice
process that is inextricably linked to choice makers’ race, class, and gender
backgrounds” (, ).
The wholesale termination of , school district employees in December
 affected a labor pool that was overwhelmingly Black women. Despite union
membership and contract protections, the employees were red. In January 
the Louisiana Court of Appeals conrmed that the teachers were unlawfully
terminated (Flaherty ).
Constituency and employment have to do with gender as identity, with the
lives of women. More nuanced are questions regarding the gendered dimensions
of contemporary education policy itself. Amy Stambach and Miriam David note
how “few studies have considered the gender politics of parents’ incorporation
[in charter schools] or the fact that school-choice programs are formulated in
ways that often reveal gendered and social-classed assumptions about families,
employment, markets, and education” (, ). They argue that “[school
choice] is symbolically and pragmatically gendered in signicant ways. ... The
use of allegorical imagery in theoretical approaches to choice programming ...
forces us to think about how and when gender becomes a basis of new forms of
inclusion and exclusion” (). Stambach and David respond to the neglect
of gender analysis by identifying a range of feminist issues embedded in school
choice policy and practices, such as the masculinization of the turn to market-
based approaches, arguing that “gender pervasively underlies the history and
present-day contours of parent-school relations and school-choice policies in
the United States” ().
Gender-neutral analysis, even on the part of scholars and activists who
bring otherwise excellent race- and class-conscious critiques of the transforma-
tion of New Orleans public schools, denes progressive research on post-Katrina
education recovery. The terms and values they use to challenge market-driven
charters, for example—“localism,” “neighborhood,” “local veteran teachers”—
are all deeply gendered, intersectional phenomena but rarely explicitly so.
The gender-neutral framing renders the gendered people and processes that
constitute these alternatives invisible.
Disaster capitalism: an intersectional process
The recovery from Hurricane Katrina as represented by the rapid dismember-
ment of the public sector is a thoroughly gendered, racialized, intersectional
process. It has disproportionate consequences for mostly Black women trying to
accomplish their gendered responsibilities, access their gender-inected citizen-
ship rights, meet their gender-constructed needs, and maintain employment in
a gendered, racialized labor market. Beyond gendered bodies, gendered disaster
recovery has implications that threaten the social contract by undermining
 · Feminist Formations .
core structures of daily life. This occurs for individuals and also for the symbolic
meanings that run through them.
There are two orders of gendered practice here: post-disaster gendered policy
and the occlusion of the gendered dimension. While the recovery has also been
largely colorblind, critical scholarship and activism have sought to expose its
racial and economic implications. The same has rarely been true of the gendered
dimension; most scholars and activists have neglected it. Writing about Katrina,
Alisa Bierria, Mayaba Liebenthal, and INCITE! explain, “Invisibility can be
used as a tool of oppression, because if a people can’t be seen, then their work
can be discounted, their experience of violence and oppression can go without
recourse, and their lives can be devalued” (, ). The effort to “render visible
the experience of women of color in the context of disaster—both the disaster
of the storm itself and the disaster of oppression in the context of the storm”
has thus been monumental work for the small number of activists seeking to
include gender in their grievance articulation and movement practice (). It
is to both the gendered elements of the social movement response as well as to
the repression of gender frames on the Left that we now turn.
The Gendered (Intersectional) Construction of Resistance
Disaster scholars have chronicled the emergence of post-disaster community-
based groups that organize for relief and grassroots recovery as well as to
right wrongs associated with disaster management (Couch and Kroll-Smith
). Most of these initiatives fall within the purview of mainstream civil
society advocacy groups. In contrast, the social movement groups represented
here diverge from this pattern in having their roots in radical social change
networks. The groups consist primarily of small grassroots collectives that
recognized each other during the years following Hurricane Katrina in a
network I call the Movement for a Just Reconstruction.5 Most of the groups
were organized explicitly for racial and/or economic justice for the survivors
of Katrina. They focused on the following seven grievances: grassroots relief
and recovery, right of return, preservation of affordable housing, preservation
of affordable health care, workers’ rights, immigrant justice, and criminal
justice reform.6
In this section I explore the gendered, intersectional dimension of the
Movement for a Just Reconstruction. I describe two kinds of gendered practice.
The rst is normative gendered organizational and movement stratication—
the gendered division of labor and leadership—that was exacerbated by the
crisis. While disaster can be an opportunity for gender transgression, most
gender and disaster literature describes the post-disaster resurgence of a gender
binary and deepening gender inequality (Pacholok ). This research usually
highlights family or employment settings. I identify gender inequality in social-
movement groups and describe the way in which disaster serves as a greenhouse
for accelerated growth. The second kind of gendered practice is the symbolic
Rachel E. Luft · 
domain of movement strategy. It refers to the gendered meanings of movement
actions: grievance articulation, tactics, organizing styles, and so forth. Usually
presented as gender-neutral, these practices have gender signicance. Gender
analysis reveals the hidden gender accomplishments of ostensibly gender-free
movement activity, where accomplishment means sexism, the absence of
gender-conscious intersectionality, and the further entrenchment of racialized
patriarchy in post-disaster formations.
I illustrate the gendered dimension of disaster resistance with examples
from the movement. The examples themselves are not the endpoint of my
analysis, nor is their purpose to demonstrate the personal sexism of the actors.
I take interpersonal sexism to be the norm, not the exception, in social prac-
tice. Instead, I approach these examples as effects of two larger and converging
intersectional matrices: the rst two dimensions of the racialized patriarchal
disaster industrial complex—construction of the disaster and construction of
the recovery—which I have described above, and an ongoing crisis in national
feminist, antiracist politics, which I describe elsewhere (Luft, ). As struc-
tural arrangements, these matrices came together during and after Hurricane
Katrina to produce a collection of patriarchal outcomes. The examples of
racialized sexism in the movement, therefore, should be read as symptoms of
larger structural processes.
Intersectional divisions of movement labor
The social movement roles that emerged after Hurricane Katrina were quickly
divided along lines of gender and race. This division reected the demographics
of New Orleans before the storm, the intersectional experience of the storm,
and the gender and race politics of radical movement networks. In a majority
Black city, in a disaster experienced by many to be blatantly racialized, most
of the social justice leaders and participants were Black. Gendered obstacles to
returning to the city made it more difcult for women, particularly low-income
Black women, to return home. The bigger social movement groups were sus-
tained by a steady stream of non-local activist volunteers, consisting mostly of
Black men and a larger number of young, twenty-something white activists who
came to support the work of these organizations.
Within this demographic context, hierarchical patterns of racialized, gen-
dered labor emerged in the movement groups. Most of the leaders of the larger
and better-resourced emergent movement groups were Black men, while most
staff, lead organizers, and movement laborers were Black women, with non-local
white women making up a disproportionate share of supporters. White men were
few and far between, though disproportionately inuential (Luft ). This
demographic breakdown means Black men are overrepresented in descriptions
of movement sexism, which should be understood as a circumstantial and not
an essential outcome.
 · Feminist Formations .
Ursula Price, a Black woman in her s, became the Executive Direc-
tor of Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a grassroots criminal justice reform
organization after the hurricane. She painted a picture of a standard gendered
division of labor:
I noticed [that male leaders] were really good at big ideas ... but they didn’t
want to do the work. [I]t was mad frustrating—it’s like, turn out is not just you
going and talking to your friends, it’s actually phone banking and yers and
folding envelopes and that stuff you don’t want to do. ... You know it actually
gets done by someone, right? ... Because they would even be critical to the
point of saying, “Ya’ll are so bogged down in details that you don’t actually
want to do anything revolutionary,” and I remember having a conversation
with [someone] where I’m like, how the hell do you expect your revolution
to happen without any work? ... People need water at the revolution. Who’s
gonna go get the water?7
I asked her about one of the younger male leaders of one of the bigger radical
organizations. She replied,
[He] has some interesting gender dynamics. [He] is real analytical about stuff,
so he at least on the surface tries not to be all that. But I even noticed during
all that public housing shit that was going on, it’s like [he was] in the center
calling the shots and a whole bunch of women around him doing the work.
... I’m like, how is it that you’re the only man in this room of twenty people
and yet you’re the only one not stapling something?8
Price’s description characterizes a gender divide in a relatively racially
homogenous movement. Additionally, however, there were more complex
intersectional dynamics occurring behind the scenes. White activists—initially
gender mixed during the emergency phase but increasingly female and occa-
sionally genderqueer during the period that followed—contributed signicant
labor to early movement efforts. This infusion of support helped to determine
which organizations were able to advance their agendas, which projects were
completed, what political goals accomplished. The contributions had real
consequences in inuencing which neighborhoods got free house gutting and
therefore were more likely to return or return quickly, or which movement
organizations were able to endure while others could not sustain themselves.
Pipelined to New Orleans by a national racial justice network, these white activ-
ists were channeled into the bigger social-movement organizations, that is, those
led by men of color. Guided by a prevailing single-issue, gender-neutral, antiracist
edict to “follow the leadership of people of color,” white activists wound up
overwhelmingly supporting the organizations and agendas of men, even after
local Black women had left the groups because of the kind of sexist practices
Price describes above. Some of the Black feminist organizers who departed then
launched groups devoted to the intersectional challenges facing women of color,
Rachel E. Luft · 
which soon foundered for lack of resources. Traditional organizational sexism in
the social movements following Katrina was exacerbated by an inux of white
outsiders and a race-only analysis that beneted the leadership of men of color
over women of color (Luft ).
Symbolic practices and meanings
The section above describes how intersectional forces, intensied by disaster,
produced gendered, racialized outcomes in terms of the leadership, labor, and
organizational agendas of women and men. Coursing through this register of
the sex and gender of bodies are currents of symbolic gendered meanings. Social
movement scholars have analyzed the way in which ostensibly gender-neutral
movement practices often have gendered signicance and therefore accomplish
gendered work (Taylor ; Luft ). Grievance framing, leadership styles,
organizing tactics, and strategy have gendered, intersectional dimensions even
when gender is not explicit. In the remainder of this section I identify two kinds
of symbolic gendered practice in the post-Katrina movement groups.
Despite the overwhelmingly gendered experience of disaster, and the
disproportionately female activists and engaged members of the base, most
Katrina movement leaders framed movement grievances in almost entirely
gender-neutral terms, as the list of movement grievances above reveals. The rst
kind of symbolic gender work, therefore, was an almost ubiquitous gender-neu-
trality in grievance articulation, except by the small number of self-identied,
mostly Black feminists whose political framework was feminist, intersectional
analysis. Omission of gender analysis obscured the gendered causes and effects
of disaster struggle and guaranteed a gender-neutral political response, where
gender-neutral defaults to centering the experience of men and the norms of
masculinities. The ght to save public housing is perhaps the best example.
For more than two years after Katrina, the effort to defend public housing was
a unifying campaign across the movement. The mobilization to reopen public
housing and prevent replacement with mixed income units was framed by move-
ment leaders as a matter of “race and class cleansing.” Despite the fact that 
percent of the leaseholders were Black women, the gendered dimension of the
disaster capitalist decision was almost never mentioned in the organizing except
by a few local Black feminist organizers. One of them, Shana grifn, explained
the consequences of the gender-neutral framing. The approach
invisibiliz[es] women’s experiences. With public housing for example, despite
the demographics ... their identities are not centered. That’s a patriarchal
outcome. ... When communities are invisible, when they are not named,
then they don’t exist, so it doesn’t matter what happens to them. It dehuman-
izes the people in those communities. ... So it makes it much more difcult
for people to even believe these events are occurring. By not naming [the
gendered dimension], it makes my work harder.9
 · Feminist Formations .
In this critical statement, grifn highlights the substantive effects of gender
repression in organizing in terms of civil death, both the human and strategic
effects of denying people’s existence. In light of pervasive cultural images of
Black welfare queens, a public housing defense strategy that sought to reframe
Black motherhood—mothers trying to return home after the hurricane—rather
than ignore the gender component of the demonization might have produced
different outcomes. Ursula Price explained, “I think if we did our messaging
better—like a conversation about mothers with children instead of you know,
lazy black people—[it] might have been a more interesting conversation.10 She
is suggesting a frame-bridging that proactively re-narrates dominant images
instead of sidestepping them.
Gender-neutral grievance articulation was one manifestation of the repres-
sion of gendered analysis, and it created a vacuum in the Movement for a Just
Reconstruction. What lled the space was the second kind of symbolic gendered
work: an organizing culture and tactics that were heavily masculinized, though
again cloaked in gender-neutral garb. Khalil Shahyd, a Black man who was born
and raised in Louisiana gave an overview:
There was this emphasis on this sort of confrontational, this combative
organizing strategy and not really on the process of actually building com-
munities back up that have been devastated by a ood. ... [B]y the time I
got there in March [] all of the women of color had just left the ofce
because they just couldn’t take [some of the male leadership] because they
were just being bullies.11
Shahyd and others separately produced similar typologies of post-Katrina
movement practices to exemplify what they called patriarchal or masculine
strategy and tactics: emphasis on large public demonstrations or protest,
authoritarian organizing culture, minimization or degradation of emotion and
basic human needs. Shahyd explained, the “gender dynamics play out in the
way that ... the leadership, the organizers, how their masculinity becomes
articulated through the strategy: one, as it has to be confrontational, and two,
it’s always about this sort of growth of power in opposition to an oppressor as
opposed to—using gendered terms—nurturing and developing an alternative
livelihood, an alternative society.”12 He continued,
[I]n the resistance against the demolition of public housing where it was just
totally this oppositional strategy, protest, protest, protest, and they never at
any point tried to just work with residents of public housing to actually develop
different strategies of community development, of housing development. ...
[T]here are other ways that we can do this and it doesn’t have to be this sort
of zero sum game, public housing or demolition.13
When she similarly characterized certain practices as patriarchal, Black
feminist Kai Barrow, staff member of Critical Resistance, made a point to
Rachel E. Luft · 
distinguish them from the gender identity or sex of the actor: “I’m not talking
about patriarchy and gender specic to individuals and specic to body parts ...
but also particular to the strategies and the tactics that are used.”14 When she
described non-locals, including some women, as practicing patriarchal politics
I asked her to clarify:
RL: What about that was patriarchal, why do you use the term patriarchy to
describe women and northerners imposing an agenda that wasn’t about—
KB: Because the key word that you just used, imposing, is part of a patriarchal
modality, right. Patriarchy is about imposing and controlling and pushing, it’s
about force and it’s sometimes done in a very gentle way.15
Distinguishing gendered politics from gender identity makes it possible to read
power and gender apart from the presence or absence of gendered bodies. There
were senior Black women organizers who were well respected and had authority
within the movement. They worked within male-led organizations or headed
their own. While sympathetic to some of these gender concerns, they rarely led
with them, rarely emphasized an anti-patriarchal or feminist agenda. Barrow
put it this way: “Women and a non-masculinist approach [are] incorporated.
... It’s not a threat, it’s not oppositional, it’s not working in alliance, it is just
engulfed in it. ... So the women who did participate in any leadership role were
allowed to ... because they were able to be engulfed by the patriarchal lead-
This statement refers not to complete absorption, for these women leaders
were inuential in the movement, but rather to the repression—engulng—of
anti-patriarchal concerns.
A consequence of the suppression of gender analysis and feminist prac-
tice was obstacles to intersectional organizing. There was direct and indirect
resistance to gender-conscious intersectional movement mobilization. Among
the feminists of color, several operationalized what intersectional organizing
looks like in practical terms as putting the experience of people living at the
intersection of multiple oppressions at the center. Said Barrow, “[H]ow are
anti-patriarchal—well, how are women’s needs, how are non-masculine-bodied
needs—getting met in this place post-disaster, during and post-disaster?”
Rosana Cruz, queer Latina feminist agreed:
Shana framed it ... the way that we needed ...to frame the recovery and
frame the rebuilding and frame the response to everything that happened
during and post-Katrina and before as: What are the needs of Black, young,
low income women? ... [I]ntersectionality in practice meant looking at who
are people who are going to be left behind, and that was a huge part of what
I was talking about. . . [W]e’re leaving all of these important voices out of
the conversation because we’re just trying to mirror this macho way of doing
things. ... [A]nd so framing a response to people’s needs as: In order for a
low income Black woman who’s a mother, a young mother, or a person with
 · Feminist Formations .
a disability, or a dyke, or somebody who’s gender non-conforming, in order
for them to be able to access what they need, what do we have to build?18
Feminist, intersectional organizing in disaster/patriarchy
The tragedy of racialized patriarchy in the post-Katrina justice movement is
not that some Black and white men were sexist and that some Black and white
women and movement networks facilitated this. The tragedy is that the inter-
sectional political vision and practice of local women of color was unsupported
and derailed at an historical moment that deeply needed this work. I have
sought here to identify some of the obstacles to that feminist, intersectional
organizing. I end this section by noting that despite the structural odds against
it, the Movement for a Just Reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina did produce
extraordinary occasions of intersectional, feminist mobilization. A small number
of feminists organizers, mostly Black women but also a few Latina and white
women, genderqueer people, and Black men, made feminist interventions into
the larger movement organizations, initiated feminist projects within them like
the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, or started their own organizations,
such as the Women’s Health Clinic. While severely under-resourced, they
accomplished important work and provided a model for disaster organizing
outside of patriarchy. As Rosana Cruz noted,
Shana and Mayaba and people who were doing the work the whole time ...
were bringing up issues of gender and we were doing it ... and we were calling
out sexism within certain dynamics as much as we could. So I mean I think
that that also is really important to acknowledge that that was happening. ...
[I]t can’t be overstated. People do the work and it’s not recognized.19
Challenges to movement intersectionality
Social movement sexism is an historic problem that exceeds both New Orleans
and disaster settings. Racialized disaster patriarchy is about the way in which
the conditions of disaster exacerbate the problem and therefore stack the deck
against intersectional feminist organizing—and in particular the intersectional
leadership of women of color—in catastrophic times. Expediency in states of
emergency is not a gender-neutral phenomenon. Reecting on principles of
intersectional feminist organizing, Barrow wondered, “But does that work in
emergencies, does that work when there is crisis at work, crisis upon crisis upon
crisis that we’re constantly battling?”20
In writing about disaster capitalism three months before Hurricane Katrina
made landfall, Klein described the new US Ofce of the Coordinator for
Reconstruction and Stabilization, whose “mandate is to draw up elaborate
Rachel E. Luft · 
‘post-conict’ plans for up to twenty-ve countries that are not, as of yet, in
conict” (, ). Carlos Pascual, the Coordinator, noted the efciency of
anticipating world crises so as to prepare “‘pre-completed’ contracts to rebuild
countries that are not yet broken” (). Disaster patriarchy is built out of simi-
larly “pre-completed” contracts. There is, however, no centralized ofce of
coordination. Rather, as Enarson observes, the groundwork for patriarchal
reconsolidation exists in the “pre-disaster ‘normal’ state of affairs” (Enarson
, ).
Racialized disaster patriarchy describes the intersectional production of
gendered experiences during and after disaster that are rooted in pre-disaster
patriarchal structures and cultures. Disaster animates the pre-existing for-
mations and facilitates patriarchal responses, which become embedded in
post-disaster organizations, actions, and recovery and resistance measures. As
an intersectional formation, disaster patriarchy demonstrates the mutually
constructive and symbiotic relationship between sexism and racism.
By schematizing the three dimensions of patriarchal relations before,
during, and after disaster, and demonstrating their multiplicative effects, I
aim to provide a map for intervention. Intervention must be multi-pronged,
occur at all three stages, and target every sector of society, just as disaster does.
Its strategy should include the explicit race-conscious gendering of analyses,
programs, and processes; dismantling of sexist, racist social and movement
structures; the revaluing of patriarchal and antiracist, feminist approaches; the
distinction between feminist politics and gendered bodies, while still centering
the experience of those whose identities are under attack; and the replace-
ment of single-issue politics with intersectionality, including at each of these
moments of gender intervention. Because we build post-disaster movements out
of the remains of pre-disaster life, we cannot wait for crisis to mobilize femi-
nist intersectional justice efforts. Instead, the groundwork must be laid before
disaster strikes. For it is here, as the people of New Orleans know well, that the
conditions of disaster are made.
This research was supported with a grant from the Social Science Research
Council. I would like to thank Seattle University Writing Rebels Angelique
Davis, Amelia Derr, Rose Ernst, Gary Perry, and Christina Roberts for their
invaluable feedback and friendship, and Jane Ward and Susan Mann for ongoing
feminist conversation that informed this work. I am deeply grateful to Shana
grifn for her profound contribution to this project and to my thinking about
these issues, and to the other feminists of color in New Orleans who fought to
advance an intersectional vision of recovery justice from the beginning. I am
also indebted to the anonymous reviewer who provided exceptionally insightful
and helpful notes.
 · Feminist Formations .
Rachel E. Luft is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women and Gender Studies
at Seattle University. Her primary areas of research specialization are race, gender,
intersectionality, social movements, and disaster. For six years following Hurricane
Katrina, which struck while she was teaching at the University of New Orleans,
she was a participant observer in the grassroots social movement that emerged in
response to the disaster. Much of her research and writing since then has focused
on the racial and gender politics of New Orleans-based community organizing and
movement mobilization. Her work has been published in American Quarterly,
Ethnic and Racial Studies, The National Women’s Studies Association Journal,
and several collected volumes.
1. See Adams ; Woods ; Flaherty ; Luft ; South End Press ;
“Hurricane Katrina” .
2. For example, see Erikson and Peek .
3. I use the terms “disaster patriarchy” and “racialized disaster patriarchy” inter-
changeably. One of the objectives of my resurrection of the term patriarchy is to dem-
onstrate the way in which it is always already racialized and thereby to encourage the
reformation and reclamation of the term as an intersectional description of systemic
racialized gender inequality. Because of patriarchy’s historical [mis]representation as a
colorblind, white-centric phenomenon, I periodically add the qualier “racialized” to
ensure that it is being read as a racialized structure. I take up this issue in the section,
“Down with Patriarchy. Bring Back Patriarchy.”
4. For an exception, see Enarson and Pease .
5. I borrow this term from Sharon Martinas.
A more detailed version of these grievances was rst articulated to me by Shana
7. Ursula Price, interview with the author, June , , New Orleans, LA.
8. Price, interview.
9. Shana grifn, interview with the author, April , , New Orleans, LA.
10. Price, interview.
11. Khalil Shahyd, interview with the author, December , , by telephone.
12. Shahyd, interview.
13. Shahyd, interview.
14. Kai Barrow, interview with the author, June , , New Orleans, LA.
15. Bar row, interview.
16. Bar row, interview.
17. Barrow, interview.
18. Rosana Cruz, interview with the author, June , , New Orleans, LA.
19. Cruz, interview.
20. Barrow, interview.
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... This paper uses racialised disaster patriarchy and collective protection as frameworks that underpin our analysis of feminist interventions to contain the spread of COVID-19 in sections of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Racialised disaster patriarchy (see Luft, 2016) as a framework facilitates an understanding of the political economy of disasters while collective protection is a framework that responds to the underpinning logics of structural inequalities. There are two major arguments we make in this article. ...
... Racialised disaster patriarchy facilitates an examination of how disasters in addition to exacerbating existing inequalities stack the odds against the intersectional leadership of Black women (see Luft, 2016: 8). Luft (2016) illustrates this phenomenon in New Orleans post-Katrina, noting that a gender-neutral response meant that two years after Katrina, 90% of the Black women leaseholders were dispossessed because public housing was not re-opened. The work to prevent mixed income units was articulated as a race and class cleansing issue obscuring the gendered effects of the disaster (Luft, 2016: 17). ...
... Gender-neutral responses of this kind default to centering the experience of men. The barriers that Luft (2016) highlights above which are underpinned by racialised disaster patriarchy are challenged by a model for building collective power for protection as developed by JASS and allies. ...
Full-text available
This article draws on the work of Just Associates (JASS), a feminist movement support organisation that strengthens the leadership and organising capacity of community-based women networks in Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and Mesoamerica, to transform the structures that perpetuate inequality and violence. We analyse qualitative interviews and surveys drawn from recipients of the JASS mobilisation fund (JMF), an innovative financial crisis support mechanism for feminist movements. We argue that localisation strategies deployed by women’s networks supported by the JMF in response to COVID-19, challenge dominant humanitarian responses that de-centre feminist movements, local knowledge, and expertise. By accounting for local knowledge generated from long histories of movement building, building collective power, and challenging racialised and gendered responses to humanitarian crises, women’s collectives and networks supported through the JMF developed contextually relevant responses that challenge patriarchal structural barriers heightened by COVID-19.
... We ground this social construction of vulnerability along highly gendered lines and its implications for experiences of, and responses to, disruption in Luft's (2016) model of disaster patriarchy. Disaster patriarchy argues that resilience is conditioned on socially embedded gendered and racialised inequalities produced before a disaster occurs, and reproduced during and after the event (see Luft, 2016Luft, , V. 2021). ...
... We ground this social construction of vulnerability along highly gendered lines and its implications for experiences of, and responses to, disruption in Luft's (2016) model of disaster patriarchy. Disaster patriarchy argues that resilience is conditioned on socially embedded gendered and racialised inequalities produced before a disaster occurs, and reproduced during and after the event (see Luft, 2016Luft, , V. 2021). Luft's (2016) model provides a lens through which the profoundly gendered and racialised dimensions of disaster can be understood, along with the 'political, institutional, organisational and cultural' (Luft, 2016:1) systems in which people attempt to survive, resist, explain, and recover from crisis. ...
... Disaster patriarchy argues that resilience is conditioned on socially embedded gendered and racialised inequalities produced before a disaster occurs, and reproduced during and after the event (see Luft, 2016Luft, , V. 2021). Luft's (2016) model provides a lens through which the profoundly gendered and racialised dimensions of disaster can be understood, along with the 'political, institutional, organisational and cultural' (Luft, 2016:1) systems in which people attempt to survive, resist, explain, and recover from crisis. These studies and other studies that adopted this approach (V, 2021) highlight the need to understand the social construction of women's vulnerability, which 'is not a natural attribute of women but rooted in gender inequality' (Smyth and Sweetman, 2015, 410) that conspires to reduce women's 'adaptive capacity' (Cinner et al., 2012: 13) in the face of disruption. ...
Full-text available
This study examines the response of women to disruptions caused by COVID-19 in small-scale fisheries (SSF) in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG). It interrogates the concept of resilience and its potential for mitigating women’s vulnerability in times of adversity. We define resilience as the ability to thrive amidst shocks, stresses, and unforeseen disruptions. Drawing on a focus group discussion, in-depth interviews with key informants from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, and a literature review, we highlight how COVID-19 disruptions on seafood demand, distribution, labour and production acutely affected women and heightened their pre-existing vulnerabilities. Women responded by deploying both negative and positive coping strategies. We argue that the concept of resilience often romanticises women navigating adversity as having ‘supernatural’ abilities to endure disruptions and takes attention away from the sources of their adversity and from the governments’ concomitant failures to address them. Our analysis shows reasons for “ocean optimism” while also cautioning against simplistic resilience assessments when discussing the hidden dangers of select coping strategies, including the adoption of digital solutions and livelihood diversification, which are often constructed along highly gendered lines with unevenly distributed benefits.
... The gendered aspects of disasters have been drawing the attention of scholars, policymakers, state and non-state actors since the 1990s (see, for example, [7,11,[27][28][29][30][31][32]. Attempts to 'engender disasters' are decades behind those to engender development [7]; p.58). ...
... (July 5, 2015, Bungamati, Nepal) Shamjhana's narration reveals how gendered bureaucratic and financial discrimination works against woman's needs and adds new barriers to her problems. Samjhana's situation can be viewed as exemplary of what[28] p.3) call 'disaster patriarchy', when patriarchy shapes the conditions of survival and recovery, as in Samjhana case, where she was barred from lending schemes. ...
Full-text available
This paper presents an in-depth analysis of women earthquake survivors during and after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal by looking at women's experience of evacuation, relief, and recovery. In particular, it examines how gender intersects with socio-economic factors such as citizenship, caste, ethnicity, income, debt, and location to shape women's disaster experience. It concerns a real-time ethnography: one of the authors is an earthquake survivor who documented women's earthquake stories while living in the camps near her neighbourhood. The paper presents findings that contribute to the literature on gender and disaster. First, it shows how women's knowledge and actions helped save and protect their families during and after the earthquake. Second, it discusses how women face discrimination when accessing relief due to unequal citizenship and other legal rights. Third, the paper shows how the debt brought about by disaster is gendered. Fourth, the paper argues how disaster shifts patriarchal gender norms, provides opportunities to take up new roles, and develops new confidence. As a result, some women could utilize the disaster aftermath to break through ‘cultural gender taboos’ that discriminated against them.
... Curran calls for "critical risk analyses" such that "differentials in economic power constitute a key form of social power for avoiding certain risk positions and rendering others exposed to the worst of the emerging damages" (Curran, 2013b, p. 75). Beyond Curran's work, we also see further research looking at risk in intersectional terms, adding race and gender to class (Luft, 2016;Olofsson et al., 2016;cited by Zinn, 2018). ...
Full-text available
In this paper I attempt to contribute to the developing field of “political philosophy of mind.” To render concrete the notion of “affective frame,” a social situation which pre-selects for salience and valence of environmental factors relative to a subject’s life, I conduct a case study of a deleterious socially instituted affective frame, which, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, produced individuated circumstances that came crashing down on “essential workers” who were forced into a double bind. We saw here an untenable and ultimately fatal situation that forced a choice between, on the one hand, increasing the risk of their failing to provide financial support for their family if they quit their job or reduced their hours, and on the other, increasing their risk of contracting the virus by continuing to work. The case study will thus be itself an affective frame that will bring to the fore for its readers a nexus of harmful social practices of contemporary American society. Form is reinforced by content here, as this particular affective frame brings forth a further emphasis on affect when we focus on workers simultaneously socialized into roles as breadwinners and as members of the caring professions. For those people, quitting work becomes even more difficult as they come to affirm their self-identity of being providers of affective labor for those in their care at work and of being the affective anchor of family life at home, the one who financially helps keep a roof over the heads of their loved ones as well as being the emotional backbone of the family. Hence the affective frame of “essential workers in Covid times” renders salient and affirmatively valenced their affectively laden self-image as caring helpers of those in need, at home and at work.
... Scale is integral: as Luft (2016b) argues in enunciating a concept of 'racialized disaster patriarchy,' interlocking processes across race, gender, class, and more link individual experience with wider structural inequalities (see also Luft, 2008;Reid, 2013a). Identities intersect not only within individuals but especially across social structures by scale (Vickery, 2018). ...
Full-text available
While the sociology of disasters was slow to incorporate the study of inequality in analyses, recent research in the field has centered the study of inequality. Powered by changing empirical terrain in the form of climate change and by theoretically engagement with other sociological subfields, our article showcases how this research analyzes inequality by tracing three research motifs of scale, time, and feedbacks. Using a data set of nearly 200 articles published in the field including all 57 articles published in 10 generalist sociology journals from 2008 to 2020, we relate this perspective on scale, time, and feedbacks to eight primary areas of work in the sociology of disasters: (1) community, social capital, and resilience; (2) migration and displacement; (3) race; (4) gender; (5) intersectionality; (6) health and wellness; (7) governance and policy; and (8) environment and climate change. Our discussion champions future research on feedbacks by providing a theoretical backing with social theory on relational inequality as well as by substantiating it empirically with the eight areas of research.
... One stream of thought looks at disasters as a "rupture" or a break in the ordinary that may have the potential of unsettling an already established status quo including gender relations, therefore providing an opportunity to challenge patriarchal structures (Arora, 2018;Moreno & Shaw, 2018). On the other hand, many social scientists (Hines, 2007;Kinnvall & Rydstrom, 2019;Luft, 2016) have strongly argued how disasters as events tend to have an opposite effect of reinforcing patriarchy by expecting women to revert to traditional gender roles of caregiving and familial duties. ...
With growing interest in the lives of individuals and communities during the Covid‐19 pandemic, there is consensus among scholars, academicians and policy makers that the pandemic has had unequal impacts on different sections of the society. The dominant idea that “we are in this together” needs to be critically unpacked to understand the differential impact of the same pandemic on people with varied vulnerabilities. The concept of ‘intersectional vulnerability’ has been key to understanding the unequal distribution of the pandemic risk. Using a gendered intersectional lens, this paper aims to understand the lived experiences of migrant women workers during the pandemic and their narratives of gendered inequality. Through a narrative study in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), India, from May to October 2020, this study brings out stories of precarity faced by five migrant women while battling the social, psychological and economic effects of the pandemic. Loss of livelihood, home, savings and prospects of a better future shape the narratives of these women. The pandemic exacerbated the already precarious positions of these women by creating a situation where ‐ a) patriarchal structures were further reinforced, and b) losing gender solidarity and companionship through lockdown and social distancing.
Recently there has been a renewed call for research that seeks to understand the experiences of historically marginalized groups as a means of addressing inequities in governmental treatment and service provision. Although this call has been issued across all of the social sciences, its manifestation in the realm of disaster and emergency management has been limited based on the discipline's lack of use of critical methods within research designs. We argue that this is not necessarily a byproduct of a lack of interest in the experiences of minority populations or addressing inequity, but due a lack of understanding on how to use critical theory as a framework for research design in emergency and disaster management. As such, this conceptual paper offers insight into the need and value of critical theory as a means of structuring research. To aid the practices of other researchers, we offer two potential methods among many, critical ethnography and storytelling, as options for approaching critical research in emergency and disaster management. 近年来,研究重新呼吁对历史上边缘化群体的经历加以解读,以应对政府待遇和服务提供中的不平等。尽管所有社会科学都发出了这一呼吁,其在灾害和应急管理领域中的体现却一直受限,这基于研究设计中缺少对批判方法的使用。我们论证认为,这并非是少数群体经历或应对不平等一事中出现的非预期的研究兴趣,而是因为缺乏理解“如何在应急和灾害管理的研究设计中对批判理论作为框架加以使用”而造成的。 照此,本概念文章分析了批判理论作为研究体系构建方法的必需性和价值。为辅助其他研究者的实践,我们提供了两种潜在方法,即批判民族志和讲故事,作为在应急和灾害管理中应用批判研究的可选项。 Recientemente ha habido un renovado llamado a la investigación que busca comprender las experiencias de los grupos históricamente marginados como un medio para abordar las inequidades en el trato gubernamental y la provisión de servicios. Aunque esta convocatoria se ha realizado en todas las ciencias sociales, su manifestación en el ámbito de la gestión de desastres y emergencias ha sido limitada debido a la falta de uso de métodos críticos en los diseños de investigación. Argumentamos que esto no es necesariamente un subproducto del interés en la experiencia de las poblaciones minoritarias o el abordaje de la inequidad, sino debido a una falta de comprensión sobre cómo utilizar la teoría crítica como marco para el diseño de la investigación en la gestión de emergencias y desastres. Como tal, este artículo conceptual ofrece información sobre la necesidad y el valor de la teoría crítica como medio para estructurar la investigación. Para ayudar a las prácticas de otros investigadores, ofrecemos dos métodos potenciales entre muchos, la etnografía crítica y la narración de historias, como opciones para abordar la investigación crítica en la gestión de emergencias y desastres.
In this paper, we suggest that theorising on gendered structural violence and inequalities in disaster recovery would benefit from the in-depth focus on intersections of social relations and processes as they manifest in everyday lives. Drawing from the theorising on neoliberal states, we propose a new theoretical approach of “wounded attachments to disaster recovery”. This theoretical position is informed by the lives of three women survivors from three diverse disasters in India. Five perspectives on gendered disaster recovery experience is then presented: firstly, how the recovery beneficiary categories are an extension of the neoliberal subject position; secondly, how recovery reinforces gendered responsibilities as “building oneself back better”, a respectable mother and provider; thirdly, how recovery causes pain, suffering, and ressentiment; fourthly, how complex inequalities and social relations are lived through and negotiated in the aftermath of disasters; and finally, how women narrate counter cultural everydayness to disaster recovery in their life histories. We suggest that an understanding of intersectionality, or interlocking systems of oppression, as a form of injury, allows to understand power and structures of disaster recovery. Reiterations of such injuries suggest that instead of reducing vulnerability, and injustice, recovery efforts reiterate these very structures of inequality. The failure to operationalize and capture the complexities of structural inequality and injustice in the context of disaster recovery could be overcome by drawing on the work of scholars who recognize the limits of the concept of intersectionality and engage in alternate conceptualizations, such as pain, suffering, trauma and wounded attachments.
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This book casts a light on the daily struggles and achievements of ‘gender experts’ working in environment and development organisations, where they are charged with advancing gender equality and social equity and aligning this with visions of sustainable development. Developed through a series of conversations convened by the book’s editors with leading practitioners from research, advocacy and donor organisations, this text explores the ways gender professionals – specialists and experts, researchers, organizational focal points – deal with personal, power-laden realities associated with navigating gender in everyday practice. In turn, wider questions of epistemology and hierarchies of situated knowledges are examined, where gender analysis is brought into fields defined as largely techno-scientific, positivist and managerialist. Drawing on insights from feminist political ecology and feminist science, technology and society studies, the authors and their collaborators reveal and reflect upon strategies that serve to mute epistemological boundaries and enable small changes to be carved out that on occasions open up promising and alternative pathways for an equitable future. This book will be of great relevance to scholars and practitioners with an interest in environment and development, science and technology, and gender and women’s studies more broadly.
In August 2003, one of the largest wildfires in Canadian history struck near Kelowna, British Columbia and the surrounding Okanagan Valley, causing unprecedented damage. As Shelley Pacholok observes in this innovative study, the turbulence and extreme conditions that followed in the wake of this disaster destabilized an important area of social life – that of gender relations. Into the Fire combines insights from gender studies and disaster studies to explore the extent to which notions of “masculinity” and “femininity” are challenged in the wake of crises. Pacholok focuses on how gender relations were simultaneously sustained and disrupted among those who fought the fire, drawing on media representations as well as interviews with firefighters. Into the Fire illuminates how disasters can serve as catalysts for new patterns of gender, even in highly masculine spaces.
Scholars, educators, and reformers continue to debate the merit of school-choice reform. In this article, the author marshals in-depth interview data from low-income and working-class African American mothers to describe how they engage in the educational marketplace and construct their school choices. The mothers' data shed light on the potential of charter schools and school vouchers to offer parents equal educational opportunity. Their stories show that their positionality - race, class, and gender factors - powerfully influences their educational decision-making. The mothers are determined to seek agency for their families through their school choice making, yet they question whether charter schools and vouchers can help them. Drawing upon feminist theory, the author counters traditional assumptions about the mothers and their school choices by introducing the notion of "positioned choice."
This book is about the development of white women's liberation, black feminism and Chicana feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, the era known as the "second wave" of U.S. feminist protest. Benita Roth explores the ways that feminist movements emerged from the Civil Rights/Black Liberation movement, the Chicano movement, and the white left, and the processes that supported political organizing decisions made by feminists. She traces the effects that inequality had on the possibilities for feminist unity and explores how ideas common to the left influenced feminist organizing.
The article explores two intertwined ideas: that the United States is a settler colonial nation-state and that settler colonialism has been and continues to be a gendered process. The article engages Native feminist theories to excavate the deep connections between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy, highlighting five central challenges that Native feminist theories pose to gender and women's studies. From problematizing settler colonialism and its intersections to questioning academic participation in Indigenous dispossession, responding to these challenges requires a significant departure from how gender and women's studies is regularly understood and taught. Too often, the consideration of Indigenous peoples remains rooted in understanding colonialism as an historical point in time away from which our society has progressed. Centering settler colonialism within gender and women's studies instead exposes the still-existing structure of settler colonialism and its powerful effects on Indigenous peoples and settlers. Taking as its audience practitioners of both "whitestream" and other feminisms and writing in conversation with a long history of Native feminist theorizing, the article offers critical suggestions for the meaningful engagement of Native feminisms. Overall, it aims to persuade readers that attending to the links between heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism is intellectually and politically imperative for all peoples living within settler colonial contexts.
Preface Gender? Why Women?: An Introduction to Women and Disaster by Elaine Enarson and Betty Hearn Morrow Perspectives on Gender and Disaster The Neglect of Gender in Disaster Work: An Overview of the Literature by Alice Fothergill Gender Inequality, Vulnerability, and Disaster: Issues in Theory and Research by Robert Bolin, Martina Jackson, and Allison Crist The Perspective of Gender: A Missing Element in Disaster Response by Joe Scanlon Social Construction of Gendered Vulnerability Eve and Adam among the Embers: Gender Pattern after the Oakland Berkeley Firestorm by Susanna M. Hoffman A Comparative Perspective on Household, Gender, and Kinship in Relation to Disaster by Raymond Wiest "Men Must Work and Women Must Weep": Examining Gender Stereotypes in Disasters by Maureen Fordham and Anne-Michelle Ketteridge Women and Post-Disaster Stress by Jane C. Ollenburger and Graham A. Tobin Balancing Vulnerability and Capacity: Women and Children during Philippine Disasters by Zenaida G. Delica Domestic Violence after Disaster by Jennifer Wilson, Brenda D. Phillips, and David M. Neal Case Studies of Women Responding to Disaster Gender, Disaster, and Empowerment: A Case Study from Pakistan by Farzana Bari Women in Bushfire Country by Helen Cox "Floods, They're a Damned Nuisance": Women's Flood Experiences in Rural Australia by C. Christine Finlay Disaster Prone: Reflections of a Female Permanent Disaster Volunteer by Carrie Barnecut Women's Disaster Vulnerability and Response to the Colima Earthquake by Carolina Serrat Vinas Gender Differentiation and Aftershock Warning Response by Paul W. O'Brien and Patricia Atchison Reflections from a Teacher and Survivor by Diane Gail Colina Women Will Rebuild Miami: A Case Study of Feminist Response to Disaster by Elaine Enarson and Betty Hearn Morrow Women in Emergency Management: An Australian Perspective by Doone Robertson Women's Roles in Natural Disaster Preparation and Aid: A Central American View by Letizia Toscani The Role of Women in Health-Related Aspects of Emergency Management: A Caribbean Perspective by Gloria E. Noel Conclusion: New Directions Toward a Gendered Disaster Science--Policy, Practice, and Research by Elaine Enarson and Betty Hearn Morrow References Index