GEOFORUM Puerto Rico Paper 26 7 2019 Accepted.pdf (689.53 kB)
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Disruption and recovery of intangible resources during environmental crises: Longitudinal research on ‘home’ in post-disaster Puerto Rico

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journal contribution
posted on 25.09.2020, 08:47 by Gemma Sou, Ruth WebberRuth Webber
There are many strategies and models that attempt to measure the impacts and losses from environmental crises. However, there remains a conceptual and methodological bias as assessments provide estimates of tangible and quantifiable indicators, whilst impact to intangible resources that are not easily quantifiable remain a significant oversight in disaster studies more specifically, and sustainability research more broadly. In this paper we use in-depth longitudinal qualitative data to theoretically and empirically demonstrate how intangible resources shape people’s experience of so-called “natural” disasters. Building on this, we critically unpack how intangible resources facilitate household disaster recovery. We focus on home – an intangible resource – in order to explore these issues. The case study in Puerto Rico shows that the social characteristics of home are challenged, transformed, and/or exacerbated in different ways, and at different times, in post-disaster contexts. Our longitudinal approach reveals how people’s feelings of belonging and attachment, alienation and detachment from home, fluctuate over time. In this way, the paper sheds light on how intangible resources are experienced temporally and spatially. The paper also reveals that the performance of actors such as the State and Non-governmental organisations significantly shape how intangible resources such as home are transformed, and households’ agency to maintain and recover such intangibles in post-disaster contexts. The analysis directly challenges the skewed and reductive hierarchies of what counts as a disaster loss. This is an innately political endeavour because it aims to develop strategic decision-making, from preparedness to recovery, that is sustainable for affected populations.


University of Manchester Business School

Economic and Social Research Council



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Social and Policy Studies

Published in





182 - 192


Elsevier Ltd


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© Crown Copyright

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Geoforum and the definitive published version is available at

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Dr Ruth Webber. Deposit date: 23 September 2020