Book Review: Disaster and Sociolegal Studies

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Disaster and Sociolegal Studies. Edited by Susan Sterett. New Orleans: Quid Pro Quo Books, 2013. Co-published with Onati Socio-Legal Series, Volume 3, Number 2. 

Sociolegal studies addresses the areas where legal structures interfere with solutions to human problems. In a disaster situation where normal opportunities in society are unavailable, the legal structure can interfere with society as relief and recovery efforts begin. The 11 essays discuss actions within the context of legal processes. In an ideal world, the law can help solve problems. In reality, the law has the ability to replicate inequalities in disaster responses because of citizenship, property ownership, race or work history.

The analysis provides interesting reading, sometimes exasperating as the circumstances are revealed as corporate interests are promoted at the expense of individual damages. While legal structures usually come in to play to assist in human-caused disasters and natural disasters, sociolegal impediments need to be identified for mitigation and prevention of future problems.

As an example, in examining implications from the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina, Lisa Grow Sun looks at the snowballing social mechanisms that taint actions. Reported rumors of looting and rioting are taken as gospel truth and people respond to the situation accordingly. The resulting disaster mythology creates overreactions from those who are affected, decision makers and outside actors.

A second discussion by Arthur F. McEvoy  involves engineered natural disasters, where events like extracting resources and depletion of natural barriers comes into contact with a hurricane or similar event. The failure of oversight in such situations results in finger-pointing as the analysis of complex systems identifies institutional and individual failures. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is discussed extensively, as well as the California sardine fishery example, Sacramento Valley floods, and the more recent LaConchita event in 2005.

Some of the chapters and the table of contents are available at http://opo.iisj.net/index.php/osls/issue/view/14 for those who wish to delve more deeply into the realm.

Purchase of the hard copy of the book is suggested for academic law libraries that do not subscribe to the series. Use for readings and discussion in graduate level courses in development issues would be particularly useful. Law firm librarians would do well to read the introductory materials online to understand the impact on society.

David Rogers, Reference Librarian, Sidley Austin LLP, Chicago

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