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Eller College Home > Our Stories > Leading in a Global Market > Social Dynamics in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Our Stories

Leading in a Global Market : Marketing Faculty Investigate Social Dynamics in Post-Katrina New Orleans

April 2012

By Liz Warren-Pederson

“In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, the focus is rightfully on physical repair and reestablishment of the market economy,” said Soldwedel Professor of Marketing Melanie Wallendorf. “But the moral economy — the relationships between people — also needs repair. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, residents’ sense of New Orleans as a connected community was damaged.”

Then-doctoral student Michelle Weinberger (now assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School) traveled to New Orleans to study the first celebration of Mardi Gras following the hurricane.

“What often happens during times of social threat is that people become more articulate about how things ought to be,” Wallendorf said. “Michelle went to New Orleans to study during a time of active debate.”

While outsiders questioned the value of what seemed to be a frivolous event, residents viewed Mardi Gras as a community festival, a fixed date on the calendar — the possibility of cancelling it akin to cancelling Christmas. “What’s more, there was a strong sense that everyone needed it, as a counterpoint to the tragedy,” Wallendorf said.

The ethnographic study that resulted went on to form the basis of Weinberger’s dissertation, as well as a paper she and Wallendorf collaborated on, now published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The pair focused on the question of gifting. “There is a lot of literature on gifting, mostly in dyadic gifting, or that between two people,” Wallendorf said. “In dyadic gifting, there’s implied reciprocity: the gift is meant to stay in motion. For example, a dinner invite isn’t meant to be returned immediately, it should help keep the relationship going over time.”

But gifting at Mardi Gras does not function in that way at all.

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