Liberal Arts and Management Program | Catastrophes
L416 | 11225 | Ann Carmichael


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.

Above course limited to LAMP students - must obtain permission.