Institutt for sosialantropologi

"Taking It to The Streets" - Community Events in Post-Katrina New Orleans


By Mari Hanssen Korsbrekke

Supervisor: Associate Professor Tone Bringa

This thesis concerns community events, especially those of festivals and parades, in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Based on my fieldwork of 2012, I have explored how participants in community events use these happenings as a space where they express and communicate emotional distress and their insecurities and the struggles of their everyday lives. Within these community events the participants engage in ritualistic activities, and will undergo a liminal stage where communitas may occur in the form of collective empathy, collective joy and sentiments of “togetherness”.

New Orleans is still in a post-disaster state after Hurricane Katrina broke down the levee walls and flooded the city in 2005. After Katrina, New Orleans has undergone several processes of change that I pose are sources of insecurities and personal struggles, like the surge in venture capitalism and the gentrification processes in different parts of the city. My informants also expressed that there had been a hardening in crime, and that life was not as it used to be before the storm.

The first part of the paper is a depiction of how people communicate traumatic memories of the storm, and I have explored the different processes at work when residents of the city tried to rebuild the city and their personal lives, and reproduce their traditions of parades and festivals. In the second part of the paper I explore the contested landscapes of this urban city, and how participants in the parades “reclaim” the streets from agents that are “disruptive”, by exploring how community event participants would communicate the issues of “black on black violence”, “police brutality” and “racial profiling” and subsequently transform the streets to symbolically “safer” spaces. I have also explored the processes at work within the liminal state the participants are in throughout a traditional New Orleans Jazz funeral and the following second line parades, to better understand communitas, and how people treat emotions and collective sorrow and grief in transforming these sentiments into moments of collective joy in the streets.