Shaken, not stirred : networked sensemaking of disaster in context of the Canterbury earthquakes.

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Theses / Dissertations
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Thesis discipline
Media and Communication
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury
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Wengenmeir, Martina

Social media have changed disaster response and recovery in the way people inform themselves, provide community support and make sense of unfolding and past events online. During the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter became part of the story of the quakes in the region, as well as a basis for ongoing public engagement during the rebuild efforts in Christchurch. While a variety of research has been conducted on the use of social media in disaster situations (Bruns & Burgess, 2012; Potts, Seitzinger, Jones, & Harrison, 2011; Shklovski, Palen, & Sutton, 2008), studies about their uses in long-term disaster recovery and across different platforms are underrepresented. This research analyses networked practices of sensemaking around the Canterbury earthquakes over the course of disaster response, recovery and rebuild, focussing on Facebook and Twitter. Following a mixed methodological design data was gathered in interviews with people who started local Facebook pages, and through digital media methods of data collection and computational analysis of public Facebook pages and a historical Twitter dataset gathered around eight different earthquake-related events between 2010 and 2013. Data is further analysed through discursive and narrative tools of inquiry. This research sheds light on communication practices in the drawn-out process of disaster recovery on the ground in connecting different modes of discourse. Examining the ongoing negotiation of networked identities through technologically mediated social practices during Canterbury’s rebuild, the connection between online environments and the city of Christchurch, as a physical place, is unpacked. This research subsequently develops a new methodology to study social media platforms and provide new and detailed information on both the communication practices in issue-based online publics and the ongoing negotiation of the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes through networked digital means.

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