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Postdisaster Social Work: Reflections on the Nature of Place and Loss

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In this paper we examine the nature of loss in the context of environmental disasters. When the places people call home are irrevocably changed by disasters, people experience a profound sense of loss—loss that includes both tangible and intangible elements. Tangible aspects of loss include the loss of homes and infrastructure. Intangible losses are less evident but are associated with a loss of identity, of social cohesion, of belonging and community, and of health and wellbeing that are so integrally linked to one’s place. Social work academics across the world are developing environmental and ecological theories for practice that signal the need for social workers to be more engaged with the physical environment and the significance of place. Drawing on research conducted following the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, we highlight the nature of loss in the context of damaged “places”.


Social workers and others involved in disaster recovery need to be aware of both tangible and intangible losses and their impact on post-traumatic stress and growth.

In the immediate postdisaster period, tangible losses such as homes and infrastructure are often the focus of disaster recovery efforts.

Intangible losses of identity, community, and a sense of place and belonging may be of equal or greater significance than tangible losses for those affected by disasters.
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Keywords: Loss; Place; Postdisaster; Social Work Practice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Work, and the Gender, Leadership and Social Sustainability (GLASS) research unit, Monash University Caulfield, Caulfield East, Victoria, Australia 2: School of Social Work and Human Services, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia

Publication date: October 2, 2018

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