Building Resilience Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery
by Daniel P. Aldrich
University of Chicago Press, 2012
Cloth: 978-0-226-01287-2 | Paper: 978-0-226-01288-9 | Electronic: 978-0-226-01289-6


Each year, natural disasters threaten the strength and stability of communities worldwide. Yet responses to the challenges of recovery vary greatly and in ways that aren’t explained by the magnitude of the catastrophe or the amount of aid provided by national governments or the international community. The difference between resilience and disrepair, as Daniel P. Aldrich shows, lies in the depth of communities’ social capital.
Building Resilience highlights the critical role of social capital in the ability of a community to withstand disaster and rebuild both the infrastructure and the ties that are at the foundation of any community. Aldrich examines the post-disaster responses of four distinct communities—Tokyo following the 1923 earthquake, Kobe after the 1995 earthquake, Tamil Nadu after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and New Orleans post-Katrina—and finds that those with robust social networks were better able to coordinate recovery. In addition to quickly disseminating information and financial and physical assistance, communities with an abundance of social capital were able to minimize the migration of people and valuable resources out of the area.
With governments increasingly overstretched and natural disasters likely to increase in frequency and intensity, a thorough understanding of what contributes to efficient reconstruction is more important than ever. Building Resilience underscores a critical component of an effective response.


Daniel P. Aldrich is associate professor of political science at Purdue University. He is the author of Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West.


“Daniel P. Aldrich has drawn the lens back from the single event to reveal patterns of resilience—and roadblocks to recovery—in four different post-disaster contexts. Building Resilience offers a novel and compelling look at the darker side of social capital as it relates to post-disaster recovery.”
— Emily Chamlee-Wright, Beloit College

“Why do some communities recover more quickly and fully than others? Using a comparative, interdisciplinary approach and elegantly crafted research, Daniel P. Aldrich shows that social capital is the dominant force driving post-disaster recovery. Building Resilience is social science at its best, with rich implications that will prompt a paradigm shift in disaster planning.”

— Arjen Boin, Utrecht University School of Governance

"Building Resilience is a well-written, valuable, and highly relevant contribution to the debates surrounding social capital. It focuses on events that have almost literally rocked the world in recent times and provides thought-provoking ideas for how we might better prepare societies for such events and for their aftermaths. Throwing money at the problem may be a start but it is not enough. Social cohesion has a value that must be preserved by more considered and targeted kinds of assistance."

— Roger McCormick, LSE Review of Books

"Daniel P. Aldrich has written a fascinating book on an important topic: the importance of social capital for disaster recovery. . . . Highly recommended."
— Choice

Building Resilience represents an important and convincing contribution for both decision makers and academics. . . . Aldrich’s analysis of specific recent events like Hurricane Katrina suggests viable proxies for social capital and lays the groundwork for simultaneously exploring the different types of social capital in an identical setting to gauge their relative strength. One of the work’s key strengths is its combination of empirical methods and case studies. . . . Given the importance of generating accurate data that enhance our knowledge of how to successfully cope with disasters, Aldrich’s field work can serve as an inspiration and motivation for further direct investigation in affected places and communities.”
— Journal of Economic Literature

“Aldrich makes the argument that social capital produces negative externalities as well as positive results, arguing, in particular, that bonding social capital has been used to isolate groups by race, class, and ethnicity. . . . [He] does not rely on metaphor or anecdote like many researchers who study social capital. He employs rigorous mixed methodologies across several cases. The book deserves praise.”

— Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

“Aldrich’s work is crucial to those charged with managing public affairs. . . . [Building Resilience] has profound implications for the role of politicians, bureaucrats, researchers, and nongovernmental organizations in guiding resource allocation.”
— Governance

The analysis in Building Resilience . . . is powerful as it provides convincing evidence that social resources—the connections local communities have accumulated over the years to maintain their livelihood—can be as important as, or at times more so, than physical infrastructure for a quicker post-disaster recovery. The book will be useful for decision makers, helping them to achieve an effective preparedness to deal with unexpected disasters.”
— Japanese Journal of Political Science

Building Resilience is a compact and dense book grounded in serious research and an impressive knowledge of the relevant social science literature. . . . The book is indispensable reading for students of disaster relief and reconstruction.”
— British Journal of Sociology

“Aldrich’s work is an example of social science at its best: It is methodologically sophisticated, based on a comprehensive collection of original data, is highly engaged in the issues it is analysing, uses a mixed method approach, and has an honest ambition to deliver policy-relevant advice. As such it delivers a genuine contribution to the discipline and might also help to improve the way in which disaster management is carried out on the ground.”
— Public Administration

“The last decade has witnessed an explosion of scholarship on the form, process, and consequences of post-disaster recovery and rebuilding. . . . Aldrich’s Building Resilience contributes to this burgeoning literature by offering a novel analysis of the ways in which social capital influences the pace and trajectory of post-disaster community recovery. . . . The book should be of great interest not only to disaster researchers but to policymakers, community activists, and scholars interested in empirical applications of the social capital concept.”
— Contemporary Sociology

“Aldrich’s clearly written conclusion makes concrete suggestions that might guide governments’ preparedness strategies. . . . This is a useful book and especially of value to the extent that it breaks the unacknowledged barriers that often prevent us from using what we have learned in studies of Asian societies to inform our understanding of Western nations. I hope the book will encourage other sorts of far-reaching, creative, multi-method comparative studies like it.”
— Journal of Japanese Studies

 “The book makes a significant contribution to the disaster and social capital literatures. It is a thought-provoking read not only for political scientists but also for other social scientists with an interest in social capital and/or disasters. The book is also quite informative for international agencies and government agencies involved in disaster relief, recovery, and mitigation, as well as with residents of disaster-prone or affected areas, as it shows how 'social capital, like other resources, can be nurtured through both local initiatives and foreign interventions.”
— Perspectives on Politics

“[Building Resilience] is not only a careful documentation of the role of social relations in four post-disaster settings, but also reads like a handbook on social science methods. Aldrich explains how critical case selection is when seeking causal inference. Throughout his cases, Aldrich gives particular attention to methodological integrity and clarity.”
— Christopher J. Paul, Duke University

“One of the key strengths of Aldrich’s work is his personal experience with Hurricane Katrina. As Aldrich puts it, Building Resilience is ‘written wet’, seeped in his family’s firsthand experience with friends, neighbors and extended family that provided invaluable support post-Katrina. . . By identifying social capital as an underexamined component of disaster recovery, Aldrich makes a strong case for building resilience through investment in social resources before disaster strikes and policies that maintain social ties post-disaster. An extensively researched and thoughtfully argued work.”
— Urban Studies



1. Social Capital: Its Role in Post-Disaster Recovery

2. Social Capital: A Janus-Faced Resource for Recovery

3. Tokyo Earthquake, 1923

4. Kobe Earthquake, 1995

5. Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2004

6. Hurricane Katrina, 2005

7. Between State and Market: The Way Forward

Appendix 1. Statistical Tables

Appendix 2. Interviewees