Volatile Places: A Sociology of Communities and Environmental Controversies

SAGE Publications
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Volatile Places: A Sociology of Communities and Environmental Controversies is a thoughtful guide to the spirited public controversies that inevitably occur when environments and human communities collide. The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" based on the environmental activism of Al Gore and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina are specifically highlighted. Authors Valerie Gunter and Steve Kroll-Smith begin with a simple observation and offer a provocative case study approach to the investigation of community and environmental controversies.
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About the author

At the time Hurricane Katrina struck, Valerie J. Gunter was an associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of New Orleans. She spent most of the 2005-2006 academic year as a visiting associate professor at Michigan State University, from which she had received her PhD in sociology in 1994. She has spent over 20 years researching the controversial processed by which environmental issues become registered on community and national political agendas. Articles reporting the results form this research have been published in such journals as Social Problems, The Sociological Quarterly, The American Sociologist, Sociological Inquiry, and Rural Sociology. She is a co-editor of Illness and the Environment: A Reader in Contested Medicine.

Professor Kroll-Smith is the Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. He was formerly a research professor of sociology at the University of New Orleans. He has edited and written 5 books on environmental hazards and disasters, health and the environment, and sociologists as expert witnesses. He is the current editor of Sociological Inquiry and the 2004 recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Contribution Award in the study of Environment and Technology. Kroll-Smith’s current work is the problem of race, class, and water in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. He also regularly contributes to the growing scholarship on the sociology of sleep.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SAGE Publications
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Published on
Nov 22, 2006
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781452222868
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / Ecology
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Steve Kroll-Smith
A lethal mix of natural disaster, dangerously flawed construction, and reckless human actions devastated San Francisco in 1906 and New Orleans in 2005. Eighty percent of the built environments of both cities were destroyed in the catastrophes, and the poor, the elderly, and the medically infirm were disproportionately among the thousands who perished. These striking similarities in the impacts of cataclysms separated by a century impelled Steve Kroll-Smith to look for commonalities in how the cities recovered from disaster. In Recovering Inequality, he builds a convincing case that disaster recovery and the reestablishment of social and economic inequality are inseparable.

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Left to Chance takes us into two African American neighborhoods—working-class Hollygrove and middle-class Pontchartrain Park—to learn how their residents have experienced “Miss Katrina” and the long road back to normal life. The authors spent several years gathering firsthand accounts of the flooding, the rushed evacuations that turned into weeks- and months-long exile, and the often confusing and exhausting process of rebuilding damaged homes in a city whose local government had all but failed. As the residents’ stories make vividly clear, government and social science concepts such as “disaster management,” “restoring normality,” and “recovery” have little meaning for people whose worlds were washed away in the flood. For the neighbors in Hollygrove and Pontchartrain Park, life in the aftermath of Katrina has been a passage from all that was familiar and routine to an ominous world filled with raw existential uncertainty. Recovery and rebuilding become processes imbued with mysteries, accidental encounters, and hasty adaptations, while victories and defeats are left to chance.

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A lethal mix of natural disaster, dangerously flawed construction, and reckless human actions devastated San Francisco in 1906 and New Orleans in 2005. Eighty percent of the built environments of both cities were destroyed in the catastrophes, and the poor, the elderly, and the medically infirm were disproportionately among the thousands who perished. These striking similarities in the impacts of cataclysms separated by a century impelled Steve Kroll-Smith to look for commonalities in how the cities recovered from disaster. In Recovering Inequality, he builds a convincing case that disaster recovery and the reestablishment of social and economic inequality are inseparable.

Kroll-Smith demonstrates that disaster and recovery in New Orleans and San Francisco followed a similar pattern. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding and the firestorm, social boundaries were disordered and the communities came together in expressions of unity and support. But these were quickly replaced by other narratives and actions, including the depiction of the poor as looters, uneven access to disaster assistance, and successful efforts by the powerful to take valuable urban real estate from vulnerable people. Kroll-Smith concludes that inexorable market forces ensured that recovery efforts in both cities would reestablish the patterns of inequality that existed before the catastrophes. The major difference he finds between the cities is that, from a market standpoint, New Orleans was expendable, while San Francisco rose from the ashes because it was a hub of commerce.

Steve Kroll-Smith
Gulf War Syndrome: Is It a Real Disease? asks a recent headline in the New York Times. This question—are certain diseases real?—lies at the heart of a simmering controversy in the United States, a debate that has raged, in different contexts, for centuries. In the early nineteenth century, the air of European cities, polluted by open sewers and industrial waste, was generally thought to be the source of infection and disease. Thus the term miasma—literally deathlike air—came into popular use, only to be later dismissed as medically unsound by Louis Pasteur.

While controversy has long swirled in the United States around such illnesses as chronic fatigue syndrome and Epstein-Barr virus, no disorder has been more aggressively contested than environmental illness, a disease whose symptoms are distinguished by an extreme, debilitating reaction to a seemingly ordinary environment. The environmentally ill range from those who have adverse reactions to strong perfumes or colognes to others who are so sensitive to chemicals of any kind that they must retreat entirely from the modern world.

Bodies in Protest does not seek to answer the question of whether or not chemical sensitivity is physiological or psychological, rather, it reveals how ordinary people borrow the expert language of medicine to construct lay accounts of their misery. The environmentally ill are not only explaining their bodies to themselves, however, they are also influencing public policies and laws to accommodate the existence of these mysterious illnesses. They have created literally a new body that professional medicine refuses to acknowledge and one that is becoming a popular model for rethinking conventional boundaries between the safe and the dangerous.

Having interviewed dozens of the environmentally ill, the authors here recount how these people come to acknowledge and define their disease, and themselves, in a suddenly unlivable world that often stigmatizes them as psychologically unstable. Bodies in Protest is the dramatic story of human bodies that no longer behave in a manner modern medicine can predict and control.

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