Trees and Rebirth: Social-ecological Symbols and Rituals in the Resilience of Post-Katrina New Orleans

  • Keith G. TidballEmail author


Following from earlier work on ‘memorialization mechanisms in disaster resilience’, I posit that tree symbols and rituals, and how tree symbols and rituals are remembered, re-constituted, and reproduced, represent a cluster of social mechanisms that can be viewed as ‘tangible evidence of social mechanisms behind social-ecological practices that deal with disturbance and maintain system resilience’. I continue to draw upon Berkes and Folke’s argument that some social-ecological systems build resilience through the experience of disturbance, but for this to occur, sufficient memory from both ecological and social sources for reorganization must be present. Thus, I argue, the constellation of social-ecological memories, social-ecological symbols and rituals, and the resulting relationships between human actors and other system components, feedbacks and cycles catalyzed by these relationships, all contribute to system memory, processes involved in ‘regeneration and renewal that connect that system’s present to its past’ and aid in conferring resilience.


Sources of resilience Social-ecological symbols Social-ecological rituals Social-ecological icons Memorialization mechanisms 



I wish to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of my PhD committee chair, colleague, mentor, and friend Dr. Marianne Krasny, as well as my other Committee members Dr. Mark Bain, Dr. Max Pfeffer, Dr. Richard Stedman, Dr. Thomas Elmqvist, and Dr. Kenneth Reardon for their investment in me and in this work. I also would like to acknowledge the Community Forestry and Environmental Research Fellows Program for funding this work, and for the additional support and guidance I gained through my participation in the fellowship program. I am indebted to my many friends and partners in New Orleans who continue to give tirelessly to this work, despite the great adversity brought about by Hurricane Katrina, especially Monique Piliè and Jean Fahr. I received helpful feedback from Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Stephan Barthel of the Stockholm Resilience Center, Dr. Christopher P. Toumey of the University of South Carolina, and Dr. Shorna Broussard and Dr. Steven Wolf, of the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University. I am grateful to Joshua Lewis for many informal conversations about New Orleans history, and to the many friends I made along Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, especially at The Spotted Cat. Finally, this work would have been impossible without the support of my wife Moira and my daughters Victoria and Charlotte.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Civic Ecology Lab, Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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