Sociology of disaster

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Sociology of disaster is a special branch of sociology. The research is predominantly done in the United States, Germany and Italy. Theoretically, it includes not only local disasters, but catastrophes on a grand scale. The field is closely linked with environmental sociology and sociocultural anthropology.


Many studies in the field of sociology of disaster focus on the link between social solidarity and the vulnerabilities exposed by disasters. Scholarship in this field has observed how such events can produce both social solidarity[1][2][3][4] and social conflict,[5][6][7][8][9] and more importantly, expose inequalities inherent in the social order by exponentially exacerbating its effects.

Early disaster research established the mainstream parameters of what it is to do such research - i.e. a focus on solidarity arising in the aftermath of disasters and that disasters are a consequence of human maladaptation to the hazardous environment.[10]

Types and causes of disasters[edit]

  • Natural disaster – a natural disaster is an event that occurs on its own due to the earth's regular processes. Some natural disasters can be predicted while others happen very suddenly. Injury, death and damage to personal or commercial property often occurs during these events. A few examples are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Certain areas around the globe are prone to certain natural disasters.
  • Human-made/technological disaster – these types of disaster are caused by the human race but can also be prevented by the human race. Advancements in technology are a wonderful thing but some uses of it can be very hazardous to life on earth. Extreme precautions must be taken in order to avoid most of these types of disasters. A few examples are chemical/nuclear, mass power outages and cyber attacks such as computer hacking.
  • Terrorist attacks – a terrorist attack is an act of crime or violence that is directed towards a certain group or belief system. These attacks are usually provoked by political or religious reasons. These events usually include the use of violence that often occur in bodily injury and even loss of life. Some examples are 9/11, Boston marathon bomber and the beheading of multiple American reporters by ISIS

Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are the most common occurring types of disasters that affect the human population not only physically but mentally also. These types of disasters are the most detrimental to the morality of society and inflict a lot of mental stress and fear. People affected often have horrific flashbacks and can lead to self-harm and suicide is even possible.

Behaviour before, during, and after disasters[edit]

In the sociology of disaster, human beings are naturally inclined to prepare for the odd event of disaster by buying supplies such as non-perishable foods, bottled water, basic medical supplies, sources of light and heat and batteries to operate such things. We stow these things away in an accessible place but we also have predetermined evacuation routes and ways of transportation to escape the area that will be affected in the coming hours or days if a reliable prediction of catastrophe is presented to us. During the event of disaster, humans usually panic and become stressed out. This is predictable because many have seen the destruction that certain natural disasters can do. People often contact loved ones and try to seek shelter if they cannot avoid the upcoming disaster. Sometimes, nearby societies will prepare and gather supplies to help the people that are being affected by the disaster. Some organizations will try to help the best they can during the disaster and get people out of harm's way. After disaster strikes people tend to act in many different ways. The community as a whole tries to help the affected victims but sometimes a few people can act out of the norm and act in criminal ways. Looting and shootings are often associated with disasters. Many organizations band together and provide relief. Communities eventually learn to adapt to the situation at hand and eventually start to thrive again.

Positives of disasters[edit]

When populations experience different types of disasters it promotes social change and the coming together of communities in order to help one another. Once a community experiences a disaster they are able to learn and be prepared for the next possible disaster that could happen to them.

Conflict Theory[edit]

The best scope to look at disaster's effect on society is through conflict theory. A conflict theorist believes that conflict is meant to happen in order to better society and help people to grow through competition and the inequalities between different people and groups.

Socioeconomic status and disaster[edit]

Responding to an areas disaster can depend on many factors including the economic state of that area. Whether or not an area of people is well-off or poor tends to determine how fast they are re-developed and helped after a disaster. Socioeconomic status refers to an individual's position in a stratified social order. This system puts people into groups based on their income and wealth. Those groups consist of Upper Class, Middle Class/ Working Class, and the Lower class/ The Poor. When either of these classes experiences a social disaster there are differences in how well and fast they are helped. If a wealthy community experiences a disaster such as a flood they will most likely receive special treatment due to the way American society treats their poor communities as compared to their wealthy ones.


Urban Cities[edit]

Urban areas are especially at risk when it comes to disaster affecting them because of how they are viewed and taken care of by different groups.


  1. ^ Barton AH. 1969. Communities in Disaster: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Stress. Garden City, NY: Doubleday
  2. ^ Drabek TE. 1986. Human System Responses to Disaster. New York: Springer-Verlag
  3. ^ Dynes RR. 1970. Organized Behavior in Disaster. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books
  4. ^ Taylor VA. 1977. Good news about disasters. Psychol. Today 5:93-94
  5. ^ Barry JM. 1997. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. New York: Simon & Schuster
  6. ^ Bolton M. 1997. Recovery for whom? Social conflict after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906-1915. PhD thesis. Univ. Calif., Davis
  7. ^ Fradkin P. 2005. The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press
  8. ^ Henderson AD. 2005. Reconstructing home: gender, disaster relief, and social life after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906-1915. PhD thesis. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA. 278 pp.
  9. ^ Phillips B. 1998. Sheltering and housing of low-income and minority groups in Santa Cruz county after the Loma Prieta earthquake. In The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 11, 1989?Recovery, Mitigation, and Reconstruction, ed. JM Nigg, pp. D17-28. U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 1553D. Washington, DC: USGPO
  10. ^


  • Lars Clausen: "Social Differentiation and the Long-Term Origin of Disasters", Natural Hazards, 1992 (VI), No. 2, p. 181-190, ISSN 0921-030X
  • Enrico Quarantelli (ed.): What Is A Disaster? London: Routledge 1998
    • Jones, M. M.Confronting calamity: The american red cross and the politics of disaster relief, 1881--1939 (Order No. AAI3317567). Available from Sociological Abstracts. (61788464; 200922484). Retrieved from
  • Fischer, H. W. (2003). The sociology of disaster: Definitions, research questions, and measurements. continuation of the discussion in a post-September 11 environment. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 21(1), 91-107. Retrieved from
    • Schorr, J. K. (1987). Some contributions German katastrophensoziologie can make to the sociology of disaster. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 5(2), 115-135. Retrieved from