Return or relocate? An inductive analysis of decision-making in a disaster


  • This paper was produced with the cooperation of Sara Le Menestrel, Researcher, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France.

Jacques Henry, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, PO Box 40198, Lafayette, LA 70504-0198, United States. Telephone: +1 337 482 5223; email:


This paper proposes an inductive analysis of the decision as to whether to return or to relocate by persons in the State of Louisiana, United States, who evacuated after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005, respectively. Drawing on interviews with evacuees in these events and extensive fieldwork in the impacted area, the paper seeks to identify the folk dimensions of the decision-making process, assess their arrangements, and situate the process in the larger context of risk and resilience in an advanced society. It suggests that, despite the material and emotional upheaval experienced by affected persons, the decision-making process is a rational endeavour combining a definite set of tightly interconnected factors, involving material dimensions and substantive values that can act in concert or in conflict. In addition, it indicates that there are significant variations by geographic areas, homeownership, and kind of decision. Some theoretical implications, practical measures, and suggestions for future research are examined.