Institutional ethnography, texts, disaster zone, Thailand, tsunami


This paper discusses methodological strengths and challenges in doing institutional ethnographic (IE) research in communities devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Southern Thailand. IE is a mode of inquiry used to describe institutional mechanisms of reconstruction, aid, and recovery and to show how recovery efforts affected real people and communities over time. The chaotic nature of a disaster zone, combined with the more common difficulties of conducting research in a developing region relying on a translator, posed various challenges in the conduct of this IE study. Textual data, one of the important tools used in IE research, were scarce and what texts emerged were unusual. Our study reveals a disordered and uneven aid distribution. We show how private interests and pressure for economic redevelopment coordinated government practices which could be portrayed as "corrupt." Our paper highlights the strengths of the IE method in assessing reconstruction, aid, and recovery in a disaster zone by focusing on the everyday lives of people as they moved beyond the immediate turmoil. We discuss the methodological techniques used to uncover empirical data to support analytical work when actual texts were not available. Further, we describe how IE is an effective approach for examining peoples' recall of past events, where experiences described can provide insights into the current social organization and ruling relations. These insights lead to our understanding of changes and developments that occurred in the landscape and in the community after recovery. We discuss how the reconstructed environment, including new buildings and signage, coordinated and changed people’s day-to-day activities and their ways of making a livelihood.

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