Friday, January 6, 2017


With this posting I begin the real work of my dissertation research project. I have successfully defended my topic proposal and can finally implement my own research plan. It has already been a long journey, and there is much more to come. Along the way I will share the ups and downs of this research project, interesting findings, and the many lessons, but today I introduce my dissertation project, From Networks to Recovery: Effects of social networks on community recovery in the face of flooding disasters.

How do social networks influence individual and community behavior in disasters? Because of the increasing frequency of flooding events and the large proportion of populations that are impacted by these events, many communities will struggle to survive, recover and thrive. Research into how communities nurture and leverage their social capital, i.e. social network connections, to obtain information and resources in times of stress will improve understanding of community resilience. In future I hope this understanding will help community leaders and decision-makers develop better policies to support the networks and behaviors that improve community resilience.

What are the significant underlying factors that impact social network change and utilization during disaster recovery, and what sets of variables and interactions in these networks lead to recovery? How much impact does space have on social networks? To answer these questions I plan to develop an agent-based model of social networks grounded in space to study the ability of these communities to rebuild their social networks and recover resources in the context of flooding. Once developed, I will use the model to test how variations in flooding impact, urban density, population characteristics and network forms impact the disaster recovery.

By using a holistic approach, integrating ethnographic research and disaster theory with computational experimentation, I intend to provide an example of how local, individual relationships aggregate into collective action and interact with global processes. My work will inevitably be limited by the quantity and quality of empirical data that directly apply to the research questions. Of practical necessity, the model will be a simplification of real-world behavior and event outcomes. Nevertheless computational methods will allow me to monitor and trace a subset of the variables interacting in the complex adaptive system of a community in disaster.

I am excited to begin this stage of the PhD process, and I welcome you to join me!