Friday, May 21, 2010

Normal accidents: Disaster and the Politics of Intervention

A review in Politics and Society: The last decade has been punctuated by a string of tragedies, from the attacks of September 2001 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to this year’s earthquake in Haiti to this month’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the aftermath of each tragedy, the idea that disasters are acute, unpredictable events has helped galvanize media attention and resources. But this belief in the unpredictability of disaster may also make us more vulnerable, according to a new book edited by sociologist Andrew Lakoff of the USC College.

“If we assume that disasters are unforeseeable or unavoidable, it is hard to generate the political will to act in advance to avoid or to mitigate their effects,” says Lakoff, editor of Disaster and the Politics of Intervention (SSRC/Columbia University Press, 2010). “We need to see the mitigation of vulnerability to future disaster as something we are responsible for in the present,” Lakoff says.

…“The lesson that comes from looking at different types of disasters is not a single policy prescription that will work across all of them, but a recognition of the importance of developing political interventions that are sustainable over the long term and that are achievable in the current political context,” Lakoff says.

Over the last century, governments have played an increasing role in response to disaster and management of collective risk, through public policies such as disaster relief, infrastructure development and environmental regulation, Lakoff notes.

However, “the increasing complexity and interdependence of technical systems, as well as risks deriving from modern technologies themselves, have outstripped the capacities of many of the risk management practices initially developed in the industrial era,” he adds….

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