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In Eric Klinenberg’s article, “Denaturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave,” one particularly vulnerable group of people is mentioned—the literally socially isolated. Klinenberg seeks to explain the tragedy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave from a sociological perspective, rather than merely attributing it to natural causes. He makes one particularly notable claim, stating, “scientific studies show that the differences in the mortality rates between the 1995 and earlier heat waves are not natural; that is, they are not attributable to the weather” (241). Then what caused this disaster? I would argue that violence was one of the primary factors leading up to this tragedy, and one group of people that were particularly affected by violence were the literally socially isolated.

Klinenberg notes that deaths were generally concentrated in the most neglected urban environments, and the “literally socially isolated made up a significant number of the people it killed” (260). Because of high rates of crime (including homicide and robbery) in these neglected urban communities, the “literally socially isolated” were reluctant to open their windows, leave their apartments, or take the necessary precautionary measures in response to the extreme heat. Because these groups of elderly people were fearful of being attacked, many remained isolated within their apartments, leading to drastically higher rates of death.

What’s interesting is that studies have also demonstrated that higher temperatures are correlated with aggression. It would make sense that with the Chicago heat wave, violence would become more prevalent, only perpetuating the problem of social isolation out of fear.




Fox, James A. “Heat Wave Has Chilling Effect on Violent Crime.” The Boston Globe, 6 July 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. <;.

Klinenberg, Eric. “Denaturalizing Disaster: A Social Autopsy of the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave.” Theory and Society 28 (1999): 239-95. Print.

One response to “Neglect of the “literally socially isolated”

  1. Margo ⋅

    This concept of “social isolation” was particularly interesting to me too. I didn’t realize how important close social ties were, especially in struggling communities. Even while living in a large, heavily populated city does not ensure positive social contact and assistance. We can be alone in the world if we don’t have close friends, family, or the city to help us.

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