LIVING IN TRANSITION: A CULTURAL-ECOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF ADAPTATION TO DISPLACEMENT AND RELOCATION IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AFTER THE WOOLSEY FIRE (2018)
By the end of 2019, there were 70.8 million forcibly displaced people in the world, including 41.3 million internally displaced people (IDP) who were forced to leave their homes but are still in their home countries (UNHCR, 2019). In the U.S., specifically, in 2018, there were 1,247,000 disaster-related IDPs – most of them caused by wildfires in California (IDMC, 2019). The Woolsey Fire (2018) alone destroyed at least 300 homes, immediately displacing their occupants. This is a study of Woolsey Fire survivors’ adaption to displacement and relocation, which often involves a transitional period of living in temporary or improvised home environments. From a cultural-ecological approach to environmental design, which recognizes “place” and “self” as mutually constitutive, this dissertation asks: How have Woolsey Fire survivors adapted to displacement and relocation? Further, as part of the process of adaptation, I ask: How have survivors made places for themselves while living in transition? In agreement with the aims of a cultural-ecological approach to research, this is a qualitative inquiry carried out through a Naturalistic Field Research method. This method allowed for an in-depth data collection (through the field and virtual observations, walkthrough sessions, and semi-structured interviews) and interpretive analyses (through Domain Analysis and Coding). Findings characterize participants’ experiences of displacement and relocation from a geographical standpoint (i.e., serial relocation and compromising to stay local) and the emotional toll of disaster displacement, involving the trauma stemming from the loss of home, and exacerbated by failed disaster responses, especially in the process of re-housing. Despite the difficulties survivors face with the abrupt change in their home environments, findings show that commitment to remake place connections remains strong. Temporary housing occupied in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire mainly supported design processes (e.g., homemaking), illuminating the wider role of the architecture of temporary housing in survivors’ recovery processes (i.e., as it allowed both the remaking of places and their meanings). Lastly, this dissertation illustrates some of the homemaking strategies employed by displaced Southern Californians living in transition after the fire, which includes, among other things, significant reliance on virtual environments. Virtual places, such as Facebook groups created for or by the survivors, supported real place-making goals by permitting community bonding, and consequently, driving community rebuilding.