Disasters are destructive and emotionally fraught events. Existing literature shows that emotions play a critical role in resilience at the individual level, but we know less about how emotion relates to resilience at a collective level. In this paper, I focus on what I call “resilient organizing,” the process by which groups of people work together to activate, combine, and recombine resources in order to respond and adapt successfully to adverse events. I examine the case of the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, specifically the response to Ebola by the global diaspora communities of one of the worst affected countries: Sierra Leone. Using abductive analytic techniques, I combine retrospective interviews with real-time data from diaspora organizations, online public conversations, and my own experiences working on the response to Ebola. I find that shared emotional experiences helped connect members of the diaspora to the emerging crisis in Sierra Leone, and generated a sense of urgency and efficacy which convinced many to get involved in the response. I develop the concept of “emotional modulation” and show how activists sought to strategically shape their communities’ collective emotional landscape in order to generate a balance of emotions to facilitate resilient organizing. Based on these findings, I build a theoretical model in which emotional modulation and resilient organizing influence one another in a dynamic, recursive process, with the potential for positive or negative cycles of emotion and (in)action.
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