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Abstract

As climate disasters become increasingly prevalent worldwide, it is imperative that sociologists study the processes that produce unequal disaster recovery outcomes and propose interventions that can mitigate these disparities. This study draws on 134 in-depth interviews and six months of ethnographic observations in Shasta County, Northern California, a community impacted by the 2018 Carr Fire – at the time, the sixth largest fire in California history. By qualitatively examining the experiences of disaster survivors, first responders, aid workers and service providers as they navigate the disaster recovery process, I demonstrate that local culture – beliefs, values, and norms – plays a role in producing disparate timelines of recovery. I find that, while disaster recovery assistance is frequently bifurcated into two silos – financial recovery (i.e. rebuilding) and emotional recovery – these two processes are tied up together, an entanglement that produces inequalities between classes and genders. In this dissertation, I describe the role insurance status plays in stratifying disaster survivors and analyze how a person’s class background influences their ability to access resources and cope with negative emotions. Then, I discuss how the gendered division of disaster labor associated with financial recovery produces unequal timelines of emotional recovery that disadvantage women in the short term and men in the long run. I argue that, in order to address inequalities in disaster recovery, researchers, governments, and mental health practitioners need to consider the role that culture plays in structuring disaster recovery and employ a holistic approach that addresses material and emotional recovery together.

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