Elizabeth Bittel


Communities do not recover from disasters in the same way, and disaster and hazard researchers have emphasized the need for research on recovery. Scholars seeking to establish a theory of community-level recovery from disasters have expressed a need for understanding how pre-existing community conditions combine with disaster impacts and post-disaster interventions to produce recovery outcomes. Further, traditional disaster research tends to focus on case studies of specific disasters, though many emphasize the need for more comparative and longitudinal research in communities preparing for, experiencing, and recovering from disasters so we may more meaningfully understand disasters as events situated within broader socio-historical contexts. This research responds to these calls and helps to fill these gaps in the literature by exploring long-term community-level recovery from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and civil war among communities in Sri Lanka.

I draw upon social capital, sustainable recovery, and sustainable development frameworks to explore multidimensional process at play in complex humanitarian emergencies that produce disparate recovery outcomes in communities. I present ethnographic data collected over the course of fourteen months between 2013 and 2018, including more than 100 in-depth interviews with community members and leaders, in two communities in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. I show how vulnerable populations can call upon global connections and engage with religious institutions to leverage bonding, bridging, and linking social capital in different ways throughout recovery processes to produce vastly different recovery outcomes in the context of violent civil conflict. Additionally, highlighting the rapid rise of the tourism economy in Sri Lanka’s eastern province, I show how recovery projects and tourism development co-occur and highlight the implications for socio-cultural structures as communities work to integrate tourism into already-vulnerable social systems. This research builds upon the theorization of social capital by emphasizing the role of global linkages and religious institutions in the production of sustainable disaster recovery. Finally, my study highlights the need to more clearly integrate scholarship on “sustainable recovery” and “sustainable development.”

Ph.D. in Sociology
University of Colorado Boulder

Committee Members

Kathleen Tierney (Co-Chair)
Jill Harrison (Co-Chair)
Don Grant
Amy Javernick-Will
Dennis McGilvray
Rachel Rinaldo

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