Lecture with Prof. Charles Perrow

Risk and denials: exploring energy risk possibilities and probabilities from 1945 to 2012.

Monday, September 17, 2012 - 16:15 to 17:45

Risk and denials: exploring energy risk possibilities and probabilities from 1945 to 2012.

by Emeritus Professor Charles Perrow, Yale University and Vistiting Professor at Stanford University    


The seminar is arranged by IOA in conjunction with the CBS Public-Private platform   


Nuclear denials parallel other denials such as climate change and the link between smoking and cancer, aligning state and corporate interests. The US and the Soviet Union utilized denial and secrecy with respect to radiation damages from atomic bombs, bomb factories, and nuclear power plants in order to legitimate the bomb and its bad seed, nuclear power plants. When obvious damages unmasked denial and secrecy, risk analysis was employed. Probability Risk Analysis ignored possibilities, and favored probabilities, which were always found to be low.  Since they were not zero, the risk analysis trope blamed the victims for their lifestyles or unreasonable fears, with terms such as “radiophobia” accounting for morbidity and mortality.  These dynamics are emerging in Fukushima where the radiation effects are said to be trivial but the psychological effects potentially deadly. Powerful state and corporate interests are involved in this social construction of risk. 

Charles Perrow is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and Visiting Professor at Stanford University.  The author of several books and many articles on organizations (e.g. Complex Organizations, a Critical Essay, 3rd ed. 1984), he is primarily concerned with the impact of large organizations on society (Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism, 2002), and their catastrophic potentials  (Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies 1984, rev. ed. 1999).  His current interests are in the vulnerabilities of the country’s critical infrastructures, covered in The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters  (2007),  updated in a 2011 edition covering the 2008 economic meltdown,  the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and the ongoing global warming, currently his major concern.  

The Department of Organization (IOA) will host a Public Lecture series at CBS on the theme of 'Organizing Uncertainty' during the academic year 2010-2012. The aim of the series is to bring to the School internationally renowned scholars whose work has had a distinctive impact on the social and human sciences in general, and the study of various aspects of contemporary organizational life in particular.

The page was last edited by: Communications // 02/28/2013