Industrial disasters have been rather neglected by the arts and social sciences in the past. This is not only astounding due to current events like “Fukushima”, the Chile mine crisis or the chemical spill in Hungary last year, but also in light of history. The living environment of the peoples in Europe, North-America and South-East Asia has been shaped by industrial developments in the last 150 years. These developments were accompanied by technical euphoria and expectations of progress. At the same time an awareness of the borderless risks of technological progress has emerged. Industrial disasters are mark stones in this constellation of tensions between hopes and fears. On the one hand they are perceived as being abrupt and unforeseeable. On the other hand they have been at the centre of insurance negotiations since the 19th century and seemed in this respect to be calculable risks. This has consequences for the communication of the event. It is met with linguistic patterns that are suited to open interpretational contexts. This is crucial with regard to the material dimension. The industrial disasters are characterized by their cross-border destructive effects, which become more apparent as we approach the present day. The discursive negotiation of the event accompanies the destruction and often death, physical or mental injuries. In this sense, industrial disasters are always culmination points of the examination of those risks, which a society is prepared to accept in order to use the technologies available.
Against this background, the conference will focus on the perception and communication as well as on the physical effects and coping strategies of industrial disasters. Different sectors and groups of agents will be considered: With mining, chemical industry and nuclear technology, key industries of different eras will be examined. These are or were in each case responsible for social prosperity and technological innovations, but also have destructive potential.
Analytically the four following areas of interest can be determined:
- What are the consequences of the classification and naming of an event as a disaster for forms of perception and communication, and possibly also the management of such an event? Accordingly, does it affect the contemporary treatment of the events as well as the scientific study of the same? Or is it vital to differentiate between different social and academic cultures?
- What is the relationship between materiality and discursivity of industrial disasters? Can a directly proportional dependence between the degree of destruction and / or fatalities and social negotiation of future technology development needs and the clarification of responsibilities be observed?
- Are the various sectors functioning as models in the evaluation of industrial disasters in management and communication? Can we therefore speak of structural similarities in the containment of industrial risks and accidents as well as a long-term institutional learning? Or is action shaped by a situational openness, pressure for action and information scarcity, which promotes improvisation in each individual case?
- In the context of catastrophic events, which roles are attributed to the different groups of agents or subjects? Can patterns be identified in the construction of stakeholders and managers, experts and aid workers? Or is it more appropriate to differentiate between time periods, industries, local and regional characteristics and thus stressing the extraordinarity of any industrial disaster and the suffering caused?
Proposals in German or English (max. one page) are requested by 1st October 2011.
Marc M. Wallaschek
Fachbereich Geschichte & Soziologie
Postfach D 10
Tel.: +49(0)7531 88 2490
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