Session: Disasters and Environmental Justice: Research for Social Change (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

39 Disasters and Environmental Justice: Research for Social Change

Wednesday, January 20, 2021: 2:45 PM-3:45 PM
Cluster: Sustainable Development, Urbanization, and Environmental Justice
Symposium Organizer:
John Mathias, PhD, Florida State University
Lisa Reyes Mason, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
This symposium presents research on the implications of disasters for environmental justice. The presenters aim to generate dialogue between two parallel, but potentially overlapping, domains of social work scholarship: disaster research and environmental social work. More specifically, we ask how disasters and disaster intervention may be consequential for "environmental justice," defined as the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens (Schlosberg, 2009). The papers examine multiple disasters using a diverse range of research methods and concepts. In discussion with one another, we will explore how to better integrate scholarship across these domains and, thereby, make social work research on disasters and other environmental topics more impactful for those most in need. We suggest that the aftermath of COVID-19 makes such integration more pressing than ever, as the pandemic brings structural inequalities and gaping deficits in the social safety net into sharper view.

Much scholarship has demonstrated that chronically under-resourced or oppressed communities are disproportionately impacted by disasters--a pattern apparent in recent impacts of COVID-19. Thus, social scientists have long argued that there are no "natural" disasters; the circumstances that make environmental events disastrous are socially produced (Oliver-Smith, 1996; Smith 2006). Such disparities in vulnerability and resilience might seem to fit neatly with the concept of environmental justice. Traditionally, however, environmental justice movements have focused on disparities in environmental harm that are both more directly manmade, such as industrial pollution, and more perduring, such as lead poisoning. Scholarship on environmental justice has largely followed suit. Scholarship on disasters, on the other hand, tends to emphasize community adaptation over disparities in impacts and is framed by event-driven cycles of disaster management.

The next generation of scholarship in both of these areas is moving toward addressing these gaps. Critical Environmental Justice scholars have argued for greater inclusion of different types of environmental hazards, such as climate change, that may cause disasters or compound their impacts (Pellow, 2018). There is also a movement among disaster researchers to address "slower"� impacts that tend to disproportionately impact marginalized groups (Nixon, 2011; Billiot & Mitchell, 2018). Within social work, more research in these overlapping areas is needed (Mason, Shires, Arwood, & Borst, 2017).

These presentations demonstrate multiple approaches to integrating disaster research and scholarship on environmental justice. Willett's community-based participatory study reveals how hidden environmental disasters unfold along multiple, intersecting timelines of environmental injustice. Examining intersections of social inequity and disaster impacts, Billiot explores methods for measuring impacts of both acute and slow disasters on Indigenous populations, while Ferreira examines the roles of race and gender in how the consequences of disasters are perceived. Focusing on environmental justice and disaster response, Mathias' interdisciplinary ethnographic study shows how cultural practices of disaster aid as "gift" can compound impacts on vulnerable communities, while Powell tests an intervention to improve coping and resilience among professionals who serve the most vulnerable during disasters. Mason will offer synthetic comments and facilitate discussion on how to integrate disaster and environmental justice scholarship for greater public impact and social change.

* noted as presenting author
Measuring Environmental Distress in Indigenous Communities: An Exploratory Factor Analysis
Shanondora Billiot, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Michael Braun, PhD, Children and Family Research Center, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
Predictors of Perceived Disaster Consequences
Regardt Ferreira, PhD, Tulane University; Amy Lesen, PhD, Dillard University
Tornado Shelter in a Red Bow: Giving and Receiving Disaster Aid in Rural Alabama
John Mathias, PhD, Florida State University; Tyler McCreary, PhD, Florida State University; Tisha Holmes, PhD, Florida State University; James Elsner, PhD, Florida State University
Reducing Distress in Disaster Affected Healthcare and Social Service Providers: A Natural Experiment Study
Tara Powell, PhD, MSW, MPH, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Paula Yuma, PhD, Colorado State University
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