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date: 26 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Institutional amnesia can be defined in simple terms as an organization’s inability to recall and use historical knowledge for present-day purposes. However, the concept requires to be defined more expansively so that its causes and effects can be fully understood in relation to crises and crisis management. This means conceptualizing institutional amnesia in broader terms as something that influences individual crisis managers, the formal institutional aspects of crisis management agencies, the cultural dimensions of those agencies, and the wider systemic location within which both actors and agencies reside. The analysis of the effects of amnesia in each of these areas reveals the profound effects that it can have on various aspects of crisis management.

Institutional amnesia can affect the performance of crisis management policies and the politics of crises more generally. In particular, memory loss can be seen to influence crisis decision-making that relies upon historical analogy, crisis learning which demands that learned lessons are formally institutionalized across time, and meaning-making efforts, which draw upon recollections of the past to justify political projects in the present. The effects that institutional amnesia has on these three important areas illuminate its relevance to crisis analysis. Yet amnesia, and to some extent memory, continue to be concepts that are neglected, or referred to tangentially, by mainstream crisis scholars.

Keywords: institutional amnesia, institutional memory, remembering, forgetting, trauma, decision-making, lesson-learning, crisis politics, crisis analysis

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