Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Patricia Sotirin

Committee Member 1

Diane Shoos

Committee Member 2

Jennifer Slack

Committee Member 3

Jim Cantrill


Within the last 40 years, academic research on disasters has focused on resilience as applied to individual adaptive capacities, rebuilding resources, and policy-driven solutions. While there has been an increased awareness of the many gendered dimensions of post-disaster recovery, women’s and mother’s agency in such situations is still largely ignored. Thus, this dissertation adopts a maternal focus, arguing that mothers are not merely vulnerable subjects but critical agents of post-disaster recovery for families, communities, and social systems more generally.

To analyze mothers’ resilience, I looked to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as an illustrative case and field site. Combined across two site visits in 2019 and 2020, I interviewed nine mothers and conducted a focus group with eight midwives. Their interviews were framed as stories using Clandidin and Connelly’s (2000) restorying techniques. Additionally, I drew from Buzzanell’s (2010) Communication Resilience Framework to map five communicative processes of enacting resilience onto these stories. By studying their stories, I was able to extend Buzzanell’s framework to acknowledge the proactive agency of maternal resilience as enacted through communication, contextual, and relational elements of life in the aftermath. My analysis identifies how mothers reproduced and revised configurations of personal, family, and community life post-disaster.

Overall, these embodied research practices revealed how these women remade their daily practices, renegotiated relationships and identities, and created new resource avenues not just to survive but to thrive and live well. When interlinked with histories, material exigencies, and cultural discourses, “getting back to normal” required mothers to seek the routine and advocate for change simultaneously in both motherwork and domesticity. All across the island mothers used anger as a productive force for activism and creative entrepreneurship and leveraged communal coalitions as key components to establishing collaborative empowerment and belongingness. The relationships they had with one another enacted their own brand of resilience. I argue that maternal resilience broadens discussions and understandings of what resilience is and how mothers, through their mothering practices, enact transformative approaches to disaster recovery.

Included in

Communication Commons