Returning 'home'?: Emotional geographies of the disaster-displaced in Brisbane and Christchurch

Stephanie Morrice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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To date, there remains a notable absence in geographic literature concerning the connection between disasters and the concept of ‘home’. Similarly, disaster scholarship fails to fully explore the spatiality of emotions in the post-disaster context. This research aims to fill these voids, highlighting the importance of emotional geography for scholarship on nature-society interactions. Contributing to work on emotional geography, the critical geographies of ‘home’ and disaster studies, this thesis explores the emotional dynamics of the post-disaster environment. Broadly, I aim to highlight the impact of crisis on domestic geographies of the familiar by exploring people’s emotional responses to disasters.

Using Brisbane, Australia and Christchurch, New Zealand as case studies, this thesis employs a methodological agenda that provides a way of accessing the felt world. Through semi-structured interviews with those who were displaced by the 2011 Queensland floods and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, I investigate how places become meaningful through emotions. Moving beyond a seemingly generic understanding that emotions matter, this thesis critically examines the emotions of traumatized people and their relationship to place. More specifically, I provide a deeper understanding of the emotive nature of the post-disaster ‘home’, exploring how feelings of loss, nostalgia, love, anxiety and comfort influence how disaster-affected individuals relate to this specific place. This thesis also contributes to work on material culture, considering the materiality of the post-disaster 'home' and how objects play a key role in post-disaster homemaking. Finally, this thesis engages in methodological debates within geography concerning how to research emotion, drawing specifically from my own experiences of conducting work in the post-disaster context.
This thesis highlights the complexities of people’s emotional response to disasters. Acknowledging that people negotiate their emotions in different ways, I demonstrate the complex ways that emotions influence how displaced residents 4relate to ‘home’ in the aftermath of disaster. Displaced individuals all express the extent to which their conception of ‘home’ after disaster is dictated by the emotions they experience through their absence from this domestic space. For displaced residents, home is positioned as a familiar refuge or haven from the threatening problems of the world. Narratives, however, remind us that places must be felt to make sense. This thesis therefore demonstrates how disasters can disrupt and alter one’s conception of ‘home’. In the post-disaster landscape, ‘home’ has the potential to be rendered ‘uncanny’. Feelings of anxiety and discomfort are often attached to distorted visions of ‘home’ in this environment. In this context, ‘home’ is dynamic and ever changing. Material objects play a vital role in post-disaster homemaking, as domestic spaces are recreated and re-established in a variety of different ways.

A greater knowledge of the emotional dynamics of the post-disaster environment and continued investigation into how the concept of ‘home’ can be (re conceptulized following disaster is crucial in planning for future catastrophic events. Understanding the emotional impacts of disasters is beneficial not only to those affected by catastrophic events, but also to planners and policy makers who are dealing with the practical implications of disasters in terms of both recovery and resilience.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Willis, Katie, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • emotional geographies
  • HOME
  • natural disasters
  • material culture
  • New Zealand

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