Discuss at least 6 of the following articles
“The Changing Meaning of Disaster” (F. Furedi)
– What does Furedi mean by the “new vulnerability paradigm”? What does it imply? Do you agree?
– Discuss Furedi’s central argument in this article (summarized in the Abstract on page 482 and throughout the article). Do you agree or disagree? Why?
– What is meant by a “sociological” vs. an “ecological” perspective on disasters? (p. 484) According to Furedi, what does the latter imply?
– Discuss the concept of “ambiguity of harm”.
– To what extent do agree with the assertion that disasters result from “…industrialisation, progress, technology, manufactured risks and human arrogance….” (p. 485). Why?
– Discuss the concept of “precautionary culture” p. 485
– Discuss “domain expansion” (p. 486) Do you agree? /Why?
– Discuss the shift from collective to individual framing of disaster impacts (p. 486 and 487)
– Discuss: “The vulnerability paradigm has emerged from a Western cultural imagination that regards the world as an increasingly out of control and dangerous place”. Agree? Disagree? Why?
“From the Margins to the Mainstream? Disaster Research at the Crossroads” (K. J. Tierney)
– Tierney discusses the evolution of how disasters are perceived and framed. Why is this evolution significant? Do you think this evolution makes it more possible for disasters to be prevented or better managed? Why?
– The author makes the point that there is considerable room for improvement in disaster theory. What do you believe some of the most important needed improvements are?
– Tierney argues that the field of disaster studies and management was not diverse not long ago and is changing slowly. Discuss.
– What are the implications of viewing disasters as “events”?
– What are some limitations of the “natural hazards” perspective?
– In what ways was Hurricane Katrina a “turning point” in disaster research?
– How do environmental disasters result from conventional policies and practices?
– Disaster research was slow to recognize factors such as vulnerability, class, race and gender (see p. 514). Discuss.
– Discuss the point about disasters as “normal” (p. 518)
“Contamination, Corrosion and the Social Order: An Overview” (W.R. Freudenberg)
– Freudenberg discusses pitfalls of distinguishing between “technological” and “natural” disasters. To what extent do you think it is meaningful or meaningless to categorize types of disasters? Why?
– Discuss “Are All Disasters Anthropogenic?” (p. 23). To what extent do you think this is true? Why?
– Discuss WF’s framework of 3 stages of a disaster. To what extent is this framework useful? What, if anything, is missing from it?
– To what extent do you think that the concept of “ambiguity of harm” (p. 27) is culturally relative? Why?
– Discuss the “therapeutic” vs. “corrosive” communities effect (p. 29). Provide examples of each.
– Discuss WF’s section on “Sociological Disruption” (p. 31). To what extent does this state of affairs characterize contemporary societies in terms of “polarization”, “loss of beliefs”, “legitimacy of institutions”, “erosion of trust”, etc.? In the wake of disasters over the past few decades, is the process of disruption that is described irreversible? Why or why not?
“An Unsustainable Modernity: democracy, the global climate emergency and environmental ethics”. (B. Smart)
– In this essay the author makes the case that the world is on an unsustainable path and argues that current approaches are ineffective. Smart argues, among other things, that business as usual capitalism, high levels of consumption and lack of long-term vision are making matters worse. He argues that: “The action that needs to be taken is revolutionary in form, in scale and scope….” (p. 35).
– Do you agree with the author’s overall argument and the outlines of his proposed remedy? Why or why not?
– Is “revolutionary change” in the direction of sustainability possible? Why or why not?
– What are some shorter-term actions that might be taken to address “unsustainable modernity” and the range of environmental problems and disasters that the world is confronted with?
“Unravelling Environmental Disasters: Chapter 1: Failure” (D.A. Vallero & T.M. Letcher)
– Taking Chapter 1 of Vallero & Letcher into account, how much should we rely on engineering to help prevent environmental disasters?
– What are the strengths and limitations of engineering models (page 2?)
– Discuss how the overall lessons of this chapter relate to the “normal accident” theory of Charles Perrow (see the article by Silvast & Kelman for September 24)
– Discuss the point made on p. 6 regarding hubris and “lack of respect for the laws of nature”, in relation to the point made on p. 7: “…everything we design will fail”. To what extent do you believe that engineering can evolve in a humbler direction and be more respectful of the laws of nature? How might this happen?
– Taking into account the discussion on p.8, discuss challenges of hazard/risk communication and reliability communication. To what extent is the role of engineering misunderstood when it comes to environmental disasters?
– Most people will probably continue to live in a highly engineered world for the foreseeable future unless something changes. To what extent might “post-normal” thinking challenge the “engineering paradigm”?
– Discuss key lessons of the Bhopal and Love Canal disasters (p. 11-18)
– Discuss the typology of disasters presented on p. 20
– Discuss this sentence on p. 21: “The similarities between the events that may lead to an environmental disaster and those that may lead to a successful environmental treatment and cleanup may simply involve a slight change to one step in a long series.” What can we conclude from this?
“Black swans to grey swans: revealing the uncertainty” (Masys, A.J.)
– This article builds on Taleb’s influential “black swan” concept and discusses red-teaming, scenarios and actor-network theory (ANT) as tools to address uncertainty and surprise. (Remember the October 1 article on scenarios by Raskin et al).
– Discuss this article and link it to course concepts (e.g. disaster incubation, normal accidents, post-normal, etc.). The author argues that we can get better at dealing with uncertainty, surprise, outliers, risks, and matters “beyond our imagination”. Do you agree? What benefits might be achieved by applying the approaches discussed in this article? What barriers and constraints might come into play and how might these barriers and constraints be overcome?
– How applicable do you believe the approaches discussed might be to the cases discussed – Deepwater Horizon and the Japan nuclear disaster?
“Postnormal Science, Precautionary Principle, and Worst Cases: The Challenge of Twenty-First Century Catastrophes”. (B.K Marshall & J.S. Picou)
– The concept of post-normal is discussed throughout this article. To what extent do you find this concept useful and relevant? Why?
– To what extent is “science” able to inform complex, long term environmental and sustainability challenges? To what extent are post normal approaches an alternative?
– Discuss the “forces of rationalization” p. 230. Do you agree with this critique? Why or why not?
– Discuss the key argument on p. 232 (“We argue that the ability of science….). Agree or disagree? Why?
– Discuss the potential of citizen science / lay science / popular epidemiology in addressing disasters. To what extent do you think that these alternatives could complement conventional scientific approaches?
– Discuss the concept of precautionary principle and its relevance to disasters. What are some barriers and constrains to operationalizing the precautionary principle?
– To what extent can science control nature? To what extent is Mother Nature always in charge? Discuss.
Discuss at least 6 of the following articles