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Is home really where the heart is?

Posted on 15/05/2012

Stephanie Morrice in Brisbane

A Geography PhD student from Royal Holloway, University of London has travelled thousands of miles from home to explore the complexities of people’s emotional response to disasters, being displaced from their houses and their experiences of returning to a place that was once their sanctuary.

Stephanie Morrice’s research project is based in Brisbane, Australia, where she is working with those who were displaced by the 2012 Queensland floods and has appeared on ABC Radio Brisbane talking about her study.

She explains: “Forced displacement as a result of a natural disaster is an extremely emotional experience.  Loss and nostalgia go together in the victims’ stories and whilst every evacuee shares a different story there are striking parallels in the return motivations of those who were forcibly displaced by the floodwaters. The victims hold a nostalgic connection to, and an idealised perception of ‘home’. They perceive it as a place of familiarity and safety.”

However Stephanie says often in the aftermath of the floods, homes become barely recognisable and victims have said that viewing the flood damage can be the most traumatising part of the displacement experience. While evacuees might express an initial desire to return home, for some, the overwhelming loss and devastating damage caused by the floods is simply too emotionally distressing for them to bear.

Her project also aims to understand the materiality of home and how objects themselves can hold emotional attachments.

Stephanie says: “All of the celebrated and romanticised objects brought to the interviews play an important role in the post disaster home-making. By keeping familiar objects, such as jewellery, artwork, kitchenware, with them they can recreate home wherever they are. Through forced displacement ‘home’ can be reconceptualised and recreated in a number of different ways.”

Stephanie will also be travelling to Christchurch, New Zealand, to conduct similar research in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes to explore the emotional character of different natural disasters.


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