Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is an ethnographic account of long-term recovery in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is also a sobering exploration of the privatization of vital social services under market-driven governance. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, public agencies subcontracted disaster relief to private companies that turned the humanitarian work of recovery into lucrative business. These enterprises profited from the very suffering that they failed to ameliorate, producing a second-order disaster that exacerbated inequalities based on race and class and leaving residents to rebuild almost entirely on their own.Filled with the often desperate voices of residents who returned to New Orleans, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith describes the human toll of disaster capitalism and the affect economy it has produced. While for-profit companies delayed delivery of federal resources to returning residents, faith-based and nonprofit groups stepped in to rebuild, compelled by the moral pull of charity and the emotional rewards of volunteer labor. Adams traces the success of charity efforts, even while noting an irony of neoliberalism, which encourages the very same for-profit companies to exploit these charities as another market opportunity. In so doing, the companies profit not once but twice on disaster.
While Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and many surrounding areas, an even larger disaster occurred when survivors returned and tried to rebuild their lives. In this sometimes plodding and jargon-filled but still compelling ethnographic account of the recovery process, medical anthropologist Adams recounts the stories of numerous survivors who are rebuilding in an "economy of recovery both responded to and drew on suffering in order to reproduce itself...." Katrina's aftermath is at once a story of triumph in the midst of disaster, but it also continues to be a story dominated by the tale of private-sector corporations and the federal government acting irresponsibly and creating "vulnerable people who were then made more vulnerable by the recovery machinery deployed to help them... markets of sorrow in which the production of profits, like the production of indebtedness among the already poor, are integral to the survival of the market itself."