Conflict or consensus? Re-examining crime and disaster
Van Brown, Bethany L.
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The debate about whether or not crime – specifically looting – happens after disaster is an enduring debate in the field of disaster studies. Veteran disaster scholars argue that widespread looting only happens during a civil disturbance (riot), because it is a social conflict situation. Conversely, the same scholars say that widespread looting is rare and isolated during disaster, because it is a consensus situation. That is, during disaster, people act pro-socially and help each other (rescue, supplies, shelter), not antisocially and against each other (crime). However, I argue we need to revisit this claim, because our social world is very different from what it was when this research was conducted. Social problems like inequality are more pronounced, and there is widespread social unrest. I contend that firstly, there is evidence of widespread looting during certain disaster events as well as civil disturbances, and secondly, the looting that happens during both civil disturbances and disasters is similar because those who are engaging in such behaviour share similar motives – the belief that there is no other way to voice their grievances than to riot.