The research is a comparative study of disaster-affected rural communities (the U.S. Gulf Coast and Haiti) that explores the interactions between international actors and rural communities during recovery efforts and their influences on the capabilities of disaster-affected individuals. The study inquires into the social production of disaster recovery, theorized to be a function of social discourses, social policies, the norms of the humanitarian and development industries, and local cultures. The research involves a content analysis of public policies, media discourses, and organizational documents. The research team is interviewing local and external organizational actors connected to each of the target communities (three in Haiti and three on the Gulf Coast) with a specific focus on community actor participation in disaster recovery projects. As well, a random community survey in each of the six communities gauges individual disaster recovery, participation, social capital, and capabilities-based recovery. By employing a capabilities approach (a human development framework utilized in global poverty studies and more modestly in disaster recovery), this research advances capabilities scholarship, further clarifying what capabilities are most important to facilitate sustainable disaster recovery in rural settings.
The research team prepares a case study for each community, in addition to comparing communities on intervention practices, especially participation, and recovery capabilities sets. The findings contribute to the production of a guide and training for international actors working in disaster recovery settings, focusing on practical applications of local-external partnership building, providing professionals with an opportunity to advance skills in sustainable disaster recovery practices. Important benefits can accrue to rural communities impacted by disasters as a result of this research, providing them with greater opportunities to participate in their own recovery efforts and gain benefits from technical assistance and other direct supports from international partners.