Liberal Arts and Management Program | Catastrophies
L416 | 26615 | Carmichael, Ann

This LAMP seminar is dedicated to cultural, social, anthropological,
and scientific perspectives on catastrophes, both natural and human-
caused. To a limited extent we will discuss current understanding of
the causes of different catastrophes; our more important objective
is to understand how humans respond to events that they regard as
catastrophic. Such understanding includes identifying patterns in
responses; predictable human behavioral responses; the meanings that
cultural, political and religious authorities assign to
catastrophes: how catastrophes are re-presented by survivors,
witnesses, and commentators; and how differing time frameworks and
characteristics of particular disasters affect patterns in human
response and representation. In other words, we want to analyze
temporal, spatial, geographical, cultural, and historical aspects of
catastrophes of relevance to future leaders and managers.

One larger claim within the recent literature will require our
particular attention: that the identification and reaction to
catastrophes today, and the avoidance of catastrophe with the
concept of “risk,” are aspects of “modernity.” While some hold that
the chief difference lies in the kinds of disasters possible now
occur on a vaster scale (in numbers of humans involved directly) and
with greater technological complexity (from toxic and nuclear
accidents to the collapse of integrated biological systems), the
very fact that we can study this topic at a safe, spectator
and “objective” distance is also an important aspect of modernity.
Moreover we can and routinely do assess the costs and probabilities
of disasters that have not and might not happen. As one of our books
will argue, catastrophes and their meanings are essential to
American political and cultural thinking. Americans “embrace
disasters as a way of escaping from the present into a better
future.” Well, do we?

This course is a seminar, and depends upon the informed discussion
of its members. It is also an intensive writing offering, and will
therefore require frequent written work and assessment of written
communication strategies.