The Earliest Interest in Disasters and Crises, and the Early Social Science Studies of Disasters, as Seen in a Sociology of Knowledge Perspective

Quarantelli, E. L.
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Disaster Research Center
Today, the social scientific study of disasters is a very flourishing area. There are around five dozen research centers and institutes in the world, as well as hundreds of researchers whose major professional work is focused on disasters and collective crises. These groups and scholars have conducted field studies numbering in the four figures and have written thousands of publications. The result of such activities is a body of findings, setting forth many well data-rooted propositions about individual, group, organizational and community behaviors in disasters and catastrophes. Major inventories of these findings have been set forth in monographs, books, handbooks and encyclopedias. In addition, this area of study has its own infrastructure in the form of newsletters, journals, websites and professional associations as well as regularly scheduled domestic and international meetings. Multidisciplinary research involving the non-social sciences is increasing, and within the social sciences disciplines such as management science, political science, public administration, social geography and sociology, more researchers are involved and more studies are being conducted than ever before. (See End Note # 1 for web sites that currently have much information on what is mentioned in this paragraph). Is everything perfect? Most everyone would say, of course, no. Recently there have been critical reviews and evaluations (e.g., National Research Council, 2006; Tierney, 2007) 3 which have identified significant issues and problems that the field will have to deal with if the future is going to be better than the present. That granted, the present is markedly better than the past. Today, as just indicated, the field has never been more active and promising. It might be asked, from whence has come this vibrant research-related activity? It has not been the result of a slow development over a very long period of time. Almost all of what we have just mentioned came into being only since the early 1950s. At least in terms of continuous and systematic scientific activities, the area is barely half a century old. However, disasters and crises were of major interest to human beings and their societies much prior to the last five decades. In fact, this essay initially looks at the very earliest happenings with respect to disasters and ends with the institutionalization of disaster research in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, we start a very long time ago in prehistory, and conclude with the establishment in 1963 of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), the first social science research center anywhere in the world focused on disasters and catastrophes.
Disaster Research , Sociology , Theory