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The Left Out and The Forgotten: Notes on the Etics and Emics of Disasters

Howard F. Stein

This paper explores the applied anthropology of disaster via the multiplicity of perspectives that people bring to, and create following, catastrophe. The point of departure is the fire in Worcester, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1999 in which six firefighters died. Vignettes from this and other disasters illuminate methodological and theoretical issues. If we are to help people in the face of calamity, we must attempt to understand the stories (narratives) of disaster, and the issues of emotion, meaning, language, narrative structure, and power that shape the experience of disaster and adaptation to it. The etic/emic, formal/informal, distinctions are useful in the understanding of catastrophe and in practical work with groups. Emphasis is placed on listening, and on formulating one’s practical suggestions and activities based upon attentiveness to the conscious and unconscious processes at work in the making of disaster narratives.

High Plains Applied Anthropologist No. 1, Vol. 21, Spring, 2001 pp 1 – 24

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