Theses Doctoral

The Constant Metropolis: Disaster Risk Managers and the Production of Stability in New York City

Hagen, Ryan

This dissertation examines how resilience against disaster is produced on a daily basis by Emergency Managers and private sector continuity professionals working in New York City. Drawing on ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews, it uses disaster anticipation as a case study in inter-organizational reliability and the interplay between materiality and culture in the processual reproduction of social life.

I find that disaster risk managers conceptualize disasters as situations of abrupt mismatch between available material resources and the exigencies of critical tasks and routines. They use three interrelated types of strategies to anticipate these crises: (1) conducting persistent active monitoring and routine intervention in the organizational environment; (2) planning for the consequences, rather than triggers, of disasters; and (3) building a creative capacity to preserve or restore access to resources critical for the reproduction of social and organizational routines. Taken together, I argue, these strategies shed new light on how organizations collaborate across boundaries to build resilience against unexpected shocks.

The empirical data provides a lever into deeper puzzles in sociology: how can we account for both the durability of social structures and sudden social change? In other words, what can we learn about the way social life is reproduced by better understanding the work of professionals employed by the state and major corporate firms to proactively manage the events that threaten to punctuate that continuity?

This research advances the literature on organizational reliability, as well as the material turn in institutional theory, drawing attention to the role of material resources in the production and reproduction of cultural schemas.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bearman, Peter Shawn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 8, 2019