Roberto Barrios | Anthropology | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Liberal Arts

Roberto Barrios

Associate Professor

Roberto Barrios

Phone: 618.453.5014
Office Location: 
Faner Hall, Room 3533

Since 1996, I have conducted research on population displacement and resettlement, with a specific focus on the practices through which people recreate a sense of place, community, and recovery after a traumatic event. Through this work, I have made a number of significant contributions to the ways anthropologists theorize and document the relationships between government/aid agencies, expert knowledge, and displaced populations that either perpetuate the undesired social effects of catastrophes and complex emergencies, or enable affected populations in their efforts to reconstruct their lives. Specifically, my research has shed light on the ways expert knowledge and knowledge-making (market-based analyses, budgets as mechanisms of reconstruction project assessment, modernist/neoliberal planning) are often heralded by aid program managers, governmental officials, and professional planners as universally relevant means of helping displaced populations recover from a traumatic event, and how these forms of knowledge often articulate implicit assumptions about the nature of social wellbeing, people, and communities. Moreover, my work also demonstrates how these assumptions do not always neatly map onto – and sometimes threaten to disrupt – the ways affected populations socially produce the spaces and times they live in, and the ways displaced populations shape their dispositions, sensibilities, and identities over the course of life experiences in such space-times. Consequently, my work makes the case that recovery is experienced as a sentiment by displaced populations, that these sentiments have locality-contingent histories, and that aid agencies and governments must be sensitive to the socio-material arrangements that allow survivors of disasters and complex emergencies to experience such sentiments.

Research Interests

Post-disaster reconstruction, governmentality, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, applied anthropology.


  • Anth 206: Popular Cultures of Latin America
  • Anth 207: Anthropology of Disasters
  • Anth 410:A Practicing Anthropology
  • Anth 515A: Anthropology of Science and Technology
  • Anth 515: A Seminar on the Anthropology of Practice: Body, Technology, and Meaning

Recent Fieldwork

In 2000, I traveled to Choluteca, Honduras, to conduct a long-term ethnography of housing reconstruction and resettlement programs after Hurricane Mitch. I focused on two contiguous resettlement/reconstruction sites located in the city’s outskirts, which demonstrated dramatically different social and material conditions two years after the disaster; one experiencing conditions of acute social crisis, and the other making important strides towards mitigation of the catastrophe’s effects. Through the elicitation of personal accounts of the displacement and resettlement process from disaster survivors, aid program managers, and government officials, my ethnographic research revealed that these two communities came to demonstrate such stark differences as a result of reconstruction efforts. Most importantly, these differences manifested in the midst of politicized relationships between disaster survivors and local government and the rigid application of expert knowledge on the part of aid program managers. Additionally, my case studies posed an important challenge to conceptualizations of community capacity and resilience in disaster research. These resettlement sites clamored for an understanding of resilience that did not rely on definitions of community as a static and geographically circumscribed entity. Instead, these case studies illustrated the relational and emerging nature of disaster reconstruction communities; communities whose qualities took form in practice through politically and epistemologically mediated relationships between disaster survivors, aid organizations, and government agencies.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, these insights provided me with a critical vantage point for understanding the stakes of disaster recovery. Since 2006, I have conducted an ethnographic study of disaster recovery planning in post-Katrina New Orleans, paying close attention to the ways expert planners, city officials, and New Orleanians of varied socio-economic backgrounds envision the city’s recovery. My research has shown how participatory neighborhood recovery planning activities – although heralded as mechanisms of shared governance where all city residents could collectively participate as authors of New Orleans’ reconstruction directive – functioned as sites where expert planners attempted to instruct city residents on novel ways of defining, structuring, and experiencing urban space; namely, through neoliberal narratives of capitalist cost-benefit analysis. My research has also shown how these narratives conflict with and threaten to disrupt the quotidian practices through which many New Orleanians socially produce time and space in this city, and how they come to experience their sensibilities and modalities of sociality over the history of life experiences in these space-times. 


2017 - Governing Affect: Neoliberalism and Disaster Reconstruction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

2016  - Resilience: A Commentary From the Vantage Point of Anthropology. Annals of Anthropological Practice 40 (1), 23-33.

2015 - A.J. Faas and Roberto E. Barrios. Applied Anthropology of Risks, Hazards, and Disasters (introduction to special issue on the anthropology of risks, hazards and disasters, in press). Human Organization 74(4), 287-296.

2014 - "Here, I'm not at ease": Anthropological perspectives on community resilience. Disasters 38(2), 329-350.

2011 - Post-Katrina Neighborhood Recovery Planning in New Orleans in Dynamics of Disaster: Lessons on Risk, Response and Recovery, Rachel Dowty, ed. Sterling: Earthscan.

2011 - “If you did not grow up here, you cannot appreciate living here”: Neoliberalism, Space-time, and Affect in Post-Katrina Recovery Planning. Human Organization 70(2), 118-127.

2010 - “You found us doing this, this is our way”: Criminalizing Second Lines, Super Sunday, and habitus in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 17(6), 586-612.

2010 - Budgets, Plans and Politics: Questioning expert knowledge in disaster Reconstruction. Anthropology News. October.

2009 - Tin Roofs, Cinder Blocks, and the Salvatrucha Streetgang: The Semiotic-Material Production of Crisis in Post-Hurricane Mitch Reconstruction in The Legacy of Mitch, Marisa O. Ensor, ed., pp 157-183. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

2009 - Malditos: Streetgang subversions of national body politics in Central America. Identities, 16(2):179-201 .

2009 - The Anthropological Complications of Disaster Recovery. ISDR Informs The Americas. 16

2009 - Subjetividad, materialidad, y la produccion de crisis social en la reconstruccion de Choluteca, Honduras, después del Huracán Mitch in Devastación y éxodo: Memoria de seminaries sobre reubicaciones por desastres en México, Gabriela Vera, ed., pp 293-328. Mexico D.F.: CIESAS.

2000 - (Roberto E. Barrios, James P. Stansbury, Rosa Palencia and Marco T. Medina) Nutritional status of children under 5 years of age in three hurricane-affected areas of Honduras. Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública 8(6): 380-384.