Date of Completion


Embargo Period



international social work, environmental social work, community-based research, Kenya

Major Advisor

Scott Harding

Associate Advisor

Elizabeth Holzer

Associate Advisor

Kathryn Libal

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Experiences of Slow Violence in Poor Kenyan Communities: Micro Disasters, Formalized Aid Responses, and Community Support through Social Networks

Jennifer Willett, Ph.D.

University of Connecticut, 2015

Despite increasing focus on the physical environment within social work, the profession at-large is failing to integrate concerns about environmental degradation into research, education, and practice. Using a slow violence frame, this study applied a qualitative phenomenological design to collect data through interviews and field notes about environmental degradation and responses in 19 poor communities in Kenya. Rather than describe mega disasters as the source of their environmental problems, participants detailed “micro disasters.” Micro disasters were small and localized, exacerbated by injustices, and entrenched inequalities. Formal aid from non-governmental organizations, foreign aid programs, and the Kenyan government was either not available or was too problematic to meaningfully support participants during micro disasters. Nonetheless, participants were able to survive due to their social networks. However, successful support from social networks was dependent on the resources available. Because of the grinding poverty of participants, most had few resources to share with others. These findings expand the application of slow violence, add to operational definitions of disasters, and challenge the assumption that social networks have the resources to support community members as long as their social ties are adequate. This study also argues for the social work profession to develop programs that assist communities that are at-risk for environmental degradation and micro disasters, to participate in advocacy efforts that address the causative factors of slow violence, and to expand the inclusion of environmental degradation into the profession.