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Introduction: Organizational perspectives on crisiology and learning

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date7/11/2018
Host publicationThe Pedagogy of Economic, Political and Social Crises: Dynamics, Construals and Lessons
EditorsBob Jessop, Karim Knio
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages22
ISBN (electronic)9781351665759
ISBN (print)9781138062504
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Crises have been studied in academia in many disciplines and from diverse perspectives for at least 150 years. However, recent decades have seen a marked increase in the crisis literature, primarily due to the pervasiveness of crises throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and onwards, and an associated inflation in crisis discourses. The 1970s witnessed a range of political and economic crises - the Nixon Shock, the 1973 oil crisis, stagnation, and intensified class struggles as well as the emergence of new social movements - which contributed to the electoral victories of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the US and the UK, respectively. The 1980s in turn witnessed high-profile commercial, industrial, and technological disasters (e.g., the Bhopal disaster, Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill) that reignited interest in disasters as well as crises and how to prevent, manage, or resolve them. A further major boost came with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Indeed, this led to greatly increased funding and efforts to enhance coordinated research and planning. Thus, as Boin, McConnell and ‘t Hart point out, this has triggered efforts to unify “a disjointed, segmented set of niches within the social sciences” concerned with crises (2008, p. 6). The newly rediscovered terror threat in the “homeland”, the eruption of the 2008 global financial crisis in the “heartland” of finance-dominated neoliberal accumulation, and the rise of new forms of instability and popular resistance accentuated by the economic and political turmoil consequent upon the 2008 financial crisis, have all contributed to a diversification of the study of crises. One current is preoccupied with the cause and nature of crises, another focuses on crisis management, and a third on learning and lesson-drawing processes post-crisis. These currents may overlap. As Shrivastava notes, the “expansion of crisis research and practice is undeniably impressive”; however, “there is no single paradigm guiding research” and there are “many different disciplinary voices, talking in different languages to different issues and audiences” (1993, p. 33). This is reflected in crisis research in the fields of organizational studies, economics, political science, public policy, and sociology, as well as international relations. A plurality of perspectives and approaches is appropriate to complex phenomena because each may reveal what others cannot see. However, without serious efforts at synthesis and at rendering commensurable different paradigms and perspectives, the result can be a mosaic with contrasting impulsions and problematiques, creating a ‘tower of Babel’ effect, leading to “difficulties in communication of research results within the research community” (ibid.). It can also lead to serious questioning about what gets lost or overlooked if crisis narratives and an inflationary use of the concept of crisis marginalize other ways of examining recent events and social processes that challenge established inherited routines and experiences (cf. Roitman, 2015; see also Chapter 3). In this sense, while crisis and critique have been closely coupled in the modern era (cf. Koselleck, 1988), it may be time to critique a one-sided concern with crisis at the expense of other ways of construing and explaining significant and/or disruptive events in the modern world. To offer some guidance through this literature, we distinguish crisis from other forms of disruption, identify a key distinction between two broad kinds of crisis, highlight the challenge of symptomatology when it comes to interpreting the nature and significance of crises, and, as the special contribution of this collection, explore different aspects of what we call the pedagogy of crisis. 1. We distinguish disasters from crises in terms of the more accidental nature of disasters, which have the character of one-off events even if they occur regularly or frequently, and the more systemic and recurrent nature of crises, rooted in systemic processes of individual systems and/or the patterned interaction among a plurality of systems. This is reflected in two different, if overlapping, kinds of literature, concerned respectively with the prevention and management of disasters and the regulation of crisis tendencies and challenges of crisis management (see Chapter 3).