The dynamic reframing of post-disaster quality of life: a case study of post-Hurricane Katrina
Disasters provide a lens of disruption to explore the concept of Quality of Life (QOL). They help to move us beyond QOL as status quo to a highly dynamic post-disaster QOL that culminates into a ‘new normal.’ This shift is often coupled with complex movements in space and time as people engage in migration during and after a specific disaster event. Disasters magnify vulnerabilities and resiliencies that serve to enhance and diminish post-disaster QOL so that recovery is not experienced in a uniform way. In fact, post-disaster recovery often reproduces familiar systems and structures based on inequities. This dissertation adds to the extant literature by pushing the boundaries of QOL in order to understand how affected individuals conceptualize post-disaster QOL. Key informant interviews were conducted with 50 respondents who were stratified according to whether they returned to New Orleans or permanently out-migrated. Respondents were further stratified by (relative) level of damage and socioeconomic status. The research was also informed by expert interviews with 16 New Orleans policy makers, local non-profit leaders and service providers, as well as archival data. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze data and develop the research findings. This dissertation presents a new model of post-disaster QOL, which identifies four key domains: Common, Local, Migration Control and New Normal. The domain of Common comprises fundamental aspects of wellbeing that are impaired, diminished or threatened as a result of a disaster. Local factors interact with the domain of Common in a dynamic way that results in a core status for every individual in this study. The extent to which an individual is able to control their migration during and after a disaster determines post-disaster QOL, and this amount of control is determined by the interplay of two major domains of Local and Common that culminate into the formation of a New Normal. Those who have low control over their migration experience, predicated by weak interactions of their Local and Common domains, are more likely to experience a poor post-disaster QOL status.