– Executive Summary –

This thesis establishes a connection between community disaster resilience (CDR) and social identity theory (SIT) using a qualitative document analysis and posits that the connection can improve disaster outcomes. The association between the relatively new notion of disaster resilience and long-established theories in social psychology is not documented well in research, and without it, resilience lacks a sturdy foundation and much-needed context. This thesis builds that connection. Little has been studied about methods to increase the effectiveness of the resilience strategies and tools that do exist, and establishing the link between resilience and social psychology can provide a lens from which future studies of resilience effectiveness can be conducted. Finding commonalities among definitions and domains will help move the practical application of CDR forward. If CDR is measured, communities will then be able to implement programs to improve it. Through examining the literature, this thesis makes recommendations about how to improve CDR in a community and how to improve resilience tools and strategies.

Two research questions molded this thesis: Do existing theories in social psychology validate CDR, and how can existing social psychology theories be used to adapt CDR tools to meet the needs of a specific community? These questions were explored through a qualitative study, conducted through an extensive academic literature and document analysis of published, peer-reviewed, academic research in both resilience and social psychology to determine the extent of any connections between the two fields. Resulting affiliations were then probed to determine whether social psychology supports the concept and value of CDR.

The intended output of this thesis was twofold. The primary purpose was the purely academic exercise of conducting textual analysis to substantiate CDR and establish whether the theories of social psychology apply to it. The second was the more pragmatic, practitioner-oriented purpose of creating recommendations to improve the effectiveness of CDR tools in the field. The literature review shows the evolution and current state of research surrounding disaster resilience and explores trends and gaps in established social psychology theories, including the prominent SIT. Together, these topics provided a solid foundation for the data analysis conducted for this thesis.

Resilience has become a prevalent concept in recent disaster-related academic literature and has “burst onto policy agendas in the last few years,” as described by Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.[1] Disaster resilience has been analyzed at the individual, building, community, and system levels, defined through capacities or capabilities and as an outcome or a process. CDR cannot easily be studied without studying what makes a group of people a community, the dynamics between the community and its members, and the potential influence on those dynamics during a disaster or while preparing for one. Social psychology—the study of human social interaction—provides a useful lens through which to view these dynamics.[2] Identity is one of the core issues of social psychology, and the social identity approach is well established and often researched.[3] This approach is the foremost explanatory framework for processes among members of the same group and relations between groups.[4] Social identity is the foundation of all beneficial human social interactions—including motivation, lending assistance, communication, faith in other people, leadership, group alignment, and association.[5] Social identity is also the foundation upon which people identify and self-select roles and exert collective influence.[6] SIT is a prominent theory in social psychology and is applied in a wide variety of circumstances and populations. Its concrete markers make finding and explaining connections with CDR easier, theoretically. SIT can provide a useful framework for explaining the human elements in all phases of the disaster cycle. Moreover, the theory yields evidence that community resilience is a useful approach to disaster management, as well as the reasoning to apply it in a community to improve the outcome of a disaster.

Textual analysis and interpretation of academic literature show the relationships and commonalities between social psychology and CDR. Data categories were created within each academic field of literature studied to better find commonalities and connections, each chosen when frequency of use became evident. This analysis showed that multiple features connect the two theories. The most prevalent connection is the concept of social capital, which concerns the social ties and networks of a community that can act as force multipliers in positively affecting the outcome of a disaster. Another common concept that informs both theories is self-categorization—the groups to which a person chooses to belong—which can be particularly salient during a disaster, as spontaneous groups arise to manage disaster response in a community. The concept of collective action—those actions taken by a group as an entity—also applies to both theories and can be particularly influential during disaster response. In addition, the two theories have some related assessment variables, contributing to the work of determining the impact of CDR or SIT. The findings show many shared commonalities, providing evidence that SIT can be used to understand CDR.[7] The findings have practical application for working with specific communities to improve disaster outcomes.

Studying CDR and SIT together can be beneficial in effecting change in both fields, as increasing CDR in a community can be accomplished through measures aimed at the group as well as individual members of the community. This thesis connects several aspects of social identity and CDR, implying that SIT may amplify positive outcomes related to CDR and apply to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

[1] Susan Cutter, “The Landscape of Disaster Resilience Indicators in the USA,” Natural Hazards 80, no. 2 (January 2016): 741, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-015-1993-2.

[2] Kenneth J. Gergen, “Social Psychology as History,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 26, no. 2 (1973): 309–20, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0034436.

[3] Henri Tajfel, Differentiation between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations (London: Academic Press, 1978).

[4] Richard J. Crisp and Sarah R. Beck, “Reducing Intergroup Bias: The Moderating Role of Ingroup Identification,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 8, no. 2 (2005): 173–85, https://doi.org/10.1177/‌1368430205051066.

[5] Ray Forrest and Ade Kearns, “Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighbourhood,” Urban Studies 38 no. 12 (2001): 2125–43.

[6] John Drury and Steve Reicher, “The Intergroup Dynamics of Collective Empowerment: Substantiating the Social Identity Model of Crowd Behavior,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 2, no. 4 (October 1999): 381–402, https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430299024005; Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, “Beyond Help: A Social Psychology of Collective Solidarity and Social Cohesion,” in The Psychology of Prosocial Behavior: Group Processes, Intergroup Relations, and Helping, ed. S. Stürmer and M. Snyder (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 289–309; John C. Turner and Penelope J. Oakes, “The Significance of the Social Identity Concept for Social Psychology with Reference to Individualism, Interactionism and Social Influence,” British Journal of Social Psychology 25, no. 6 (1986): 237–52, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8309.1986.tb00732.x.

[7] Stephen Reicher, “The Context of Social Identity: Domination, Resistance, and Change,” Political Psychology 25, no. 6 (2004): 921–45.

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