This qualitative study explores narratives of youth affected by the BP oil spill in Bayou la Batre, Alabama, focusing on adolescents whose parents work in commercial seafood and/or shipbuilding industries. The research draws on 40 face-to-face, in-depth interviews with youth; 40 informal interviews with adult informants (educators, and community leaders, mental health professionals); and more than 100 hours of participant observation. Findings contribute to our understanding of ways in which youth experience, make sense of, and cope with disasters, particularly in the case of technological disasters. Although many studies have focused on the ecological, economic, and social effects of technological disasters such as the BP oil spill on adults, few have specifically investigated the impacts of these events on children.

Using an ecological-symbolic theoretical perspective, and drawing heavily on the sociological studies of children and disasters, I present an in-depth look at youth’s post-disaster experiences. Specifically, findings explore youth’s early perceptions concerning how the spill might affect themselves, their families, and their community in the more immediate aftermath of the spill, as well as their observations regarding how the actual impacts unfolded in the year following the disaster. Study results suggest that the concept of lifestyle change is a useful framework for examining disruptions of everyday routines and patterns that occurred in the aftermath of the disaster. This research focuses on two core lifestyle changes: ways in which changes in interviewees parents’ jobs affected the amount of time families spent together and ways in which closure of the Gulf of Mexico shifted family-centered recreational time. Lastly, findings highlight coping strategies (blame, distraction, and emotional processing) that youth employed in dealing with the disaster and its implications.

Kathleen Tierney (Chair)
Liesel Ritchie (Co-chair)
Joanne Belknap
Janet Jacobs
Hillary Potter
Lori Peek