American Journal of Community Psychology

, Volume 48, Issue 3–4, pp 395–411 | Cite as

Like a Fish Out of Water: Reconsidering Disaster Recovery and the Role of Place and Social Capital in Community Disaster Resilience

  • Robin S. CoxEmail author
  • Karen-Marie Elah Perry
Original Paper


In this paper we draw on the findings of a critical, multi-sited ethnographic study of two rural communities affected by a wildfire in British Columbia, Canada to examine the salience of place, identity, and social capital to the disaster recovery process and community disaster resilience. We argue that a reconfiguration of disaster recovery is required that more meaningfully considers the role of place in the disaster recovery process and opens up the space for a more reflective and intentional consideration of the disorientation and disruption associated with disasters and our organized response to that disorientation. We describe a social-psychological process, reorientation, in which affected individuals and communities navigate the psychological, social and emotional responses to the symbolic and material changes to social and geographic place that result from the fire’s destruction. The reorientation process emphasizes the critical importance of place not only as an orienting framework in recovery but also as the ground upon which social capital and community disaster resilience are built. This approach to understanding and responding to the disorientation of disasters has implications for community psychologists and other service providers engaged in supporting disaster survivors. This includes the need to consider the complex dynamic of contextual and cultural factors that influence the disaster recovery process.


Social capital Disaster Trauma recovery Community disaster resilience Place Ethnography 



Completion of this article was made possible in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Grant #41020040177 awarded to Bonita C. Long and the Michael Smith Health Research Foundation Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Fellowships awarded to Robin S. Cox.


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Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social and Applied SciencesRoyal Roads UniversityVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Applied Research DivisionJustice Institute of British ColumbiaNew WestminsterCanada

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