Our current era is one of profound changes and uncertainties, and one issue is to understand their implications for high-risk systems and critical infrastructures (e.g., nuclear power plants, ships, hospitals, trains, chemical plants). Normal Accidents (NA), Perrow’s classic published in 1984, is a useful guide to explore the contemporary epoch, in the third decade of the 21st century. One reason is that this landmark book has triggered a sustained interest by scholars who have debated, challenged, rejected, refined, or expanded its core thesis over almost now 40 years. With La Porte’s, Sagan’s, Vaughan’s, and Hopkins’s contributions into what can be described as the “standard NA debate” in the late 20th century and the more recent “new controversies and debates” by Downer, Pritchard, or Le Coze in the early 21st century, the book can still resonate with current changes in the 2020s. These changes include phenomena as large, massive, intertwined, consequential, and diverse as the advent of internet and of digital societies, the increase of transnational flows of diverse nature (people, data, capital, images, goods) and the ecological crisis captured by a notion such as the Anthropocene. Taking stock, historicizing, and revisiting NA with such debates and changes in mind leads to characterize a post-NA narrative.
Jean-Christophe Le Coze
Thomas Bierschenk and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan
Anthropology is a latecomer to the study of bureaucracy. Nonetheless, the anthropological study of organizations—of which bureaucracies are a subtype, as larger organizations are always bureaucratically organized—was initiated by anthropologists as early as the 1920s. Since the 2010s, the anthropology of bureaucracy has slowly consolidated into a discernible subfield of the discipline. It brings to the study of public administrations a double added value: (a) a specific concern for the informal aspects of bureaucracy, (b) the emic views of bureaucratic actors and their pragmatic contexts, based on long-term immersion in the research field, as well as (c) a non-Eurocentric, global comparative perspective. Anthropologists have focused on bureaucratic actors (“bureaucrats”), the discursive, relational, and material contexts in which they work, the public policies they are supposed to implement or to comply with, and their interactions with the outside world, in particular ordinary citizens (“clients”). A foundational theorem of the anthropological study of bureaucracies has been that you cannot understand organizations on the basis of their official structures alone: the actual workings of an organization are largely based on informal practices and practical rules; there is always a gap between organizational norms and “real” practices; large-scale organizations are heterogeneous phenomena; and conflicts, negotiations, alliances, and power relations are their core components. Thus, one of the major methodological achievements of the anthropology of bureaucracy has been to focus on the dialectics of formal organization and real practices, official regulations, and informal norms in organizations “at work.”
Nicholas C. Zingale
In 1887 Woodrow Wilson captured the challenge of public administration when he wrote, “It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” While he was referencing the United States, the concept is not bounded geographically or by any one form of government. What prevails is that the role of public administration is as dynamic as the political and institutional landscapes in which it resides. Subsequently, public administrators face ongoing questions on the meaning and function of their job within differing worldviews and images of government. This means having to decide on ways to implement laws, policies, and programs within situational conditions that are sometimes routine, stable, and predictable and at other times fragmented, distorted, and unique. Thus, public administrators are never too far removed from the fundamental question of how administration should come to know and understand society when having to make difficult choices. Knowledge, after all, is a sine qua non to running a government. While the answer to this question often conjures up a methodological response, a deeper analysis suggests fundamental differences at play in terms of how knowledge, and subsequently reality, is formed. Constructivism is centered on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and socially constructed. So much so that even the hallmark of science—objectivity—cannot escape social construction, which makes absolute scientific understanding impossible. Therefore, constructivism rests on the premise that objectivity is never possible because there is no way to get fully outside of the experiences that preshape and prestructure what can be seen, thought, and analyzed. Language itself is a preconstructed way to communicate, and while simple words like dog and cat may have agreed-upon generalities, they have highly individualized meanings. This is not unlike scientific facts, such as gravity. Science can define gravity in general terms, but individuals experience it in their own way. To the constructivist, scientific facts are no more than the facts that matter and make situational sense at that moment. The meaning of facts can change along with the situational conditions as new understandings emerge or, like the pragmatist, until something better comes along to more fully explain a phenomenon. This creates a challenge for public administrators, who find themselves having to contend with varied situational interpretations emanating from preexisting experiences within a socially constructed world muddled with implicit bias, prejudices, and prejudgments. The profession is fraught with impeding political expectations, institutional and constitutional constraints, and unreconcilable public interests. Administrators are supposed to know what to do and how to do it. They are expected to be experts, but what justifies expertise in a socially constructed world if not knowledge and knowing? What constitutes knowledge is, therefore, a central concern to the profession and is always in question. Constructivism is a broad field that can be traced through pragmatism (knowledge as practical application), phenomenology (knowledge as experienced and situated), postmodernity (knowledge as power), and most recently transdisciplinarity (knowledge that transcends disciplinary frameworks). Within each of these, knowledge is hermeneutically refined. Scholars within public administration tend to adhere to particular schools of thought that often contrast constructivism and positivism as dichotomous modes of inquiry. This point of departure is not trivial, as it routinely presents a quandary on what basis to use when making effective decisions, shaping policy, understanding organizational goals, and implementing programs. These are ongoing challenges within public administration that remain unsettled. As a result, public administration is often referred to as a non- or preparadigmatic disintegrated field of study from which constructivism is as much contested as it is influential in shaping the meaning of the work and research.
Shari R. Veil, Chelsea L. Woods, and Ryan Crace
The development and maintenance plans of the three 9/11 memorials and museums are examined to explore how crisis memorials and museums strategically communicate to maintain collective crisis memory. Memorial professionals accept that the location of the memorial is nonnegotiable, engage community partners in the design and development of crisis memorial features, maintain focus on the mission to ensure long-term viability of the memorial, solicit and archive shared stories of remembrance to foster a prospective vision, and concentrate on learning to foster healing and adaptive capacity.
Gary Ackerman and Douglas Clifford
Simulations are an important component of crisis preparedness, because they allow for training responders and testing plans in advance of a crisis materializing. However, traditional simulations can all too easily fall prey to a range of cognitive and organizational distortions that tend to reduce their efficacy. These shortcomings become even more problematic in the increasingly complex, highly dynamic crisis environment of the early 21st century. This situation calls for the incorporation of alternative approaches to crisis simulation, ones that by design incorporate multiple perspectives and explicit challenges to the status quo. As a distinct approach to formulating, conducting, and analyzing simulations and exercises, the central distinguishing feature of red teaming is the simulation of adversaries or competitors (or at least adopting an adversarial perspective). In this respect, red teaming can be viewed as practices that simulate adversary or adversarial decisions or behaviors, where the purpose is informing or improving defensive capabilities, and outputs are measured. Red teaming, according to this definition, significantly overlaps with but does not directly correspond to related activities such as wargaming, alternative analysis, and risk assessment. Some of the more important additional benefits provided by red teaming include the following: ▪ The explicit recognition and amelioration of several cognitive biases and other critical thinking shortfalls displayed by crisis decision makers and managers in both their planning processes and their decision-making during a crisis. ▪ The ability to robustly test existing standard operating procedures and plans at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels against emerging threats and hazards by exposing them to the machinations of adaptive, creative adversaries and other potentially problematic actors. ▪ Instilling more flexible, adaptive, and in-depth sense-making and decision-making skills in crisis response personnel at all levels by focusing the training aspects of simulations on iterated, evolving scenarios with high degrees of realism, unpredictability through exploration of nth-order effects, and multiple stakeholders. ▪ The identification of new vulnerabilities, opportunities, and risks that might otherwise remain hidden if relying on traditional, nonadversarial simulation approaches. Key guidance in conducting red teaming in the crisis preparedness context includes avoiding mirror imaging, having clear objectives and simulation parameters, remaining independent of the organizational unit being served, judicious application in terms of the frequency of red teaming, and the proper recording and presentation of red-teaming simulation outputs. Overall, red teaming—as a specific species of simulation—holds much promise for enhancing crisis preparedness and the crucial decision-making that attends a variety of emerging issues in the crisis management context.
Qualitative interview is one of the most important methods used to understand how public administration and the policy process work. It essentially involves questioning actors to obtain exclusive data about their day-to-day activities, their production of knowledge, the arguments they use, their relationships, the discrete meetings they participate in, their struggles, their strategies, and so on. Privileging “how” over “why,” it allows researchers to consider interviewees as witnesses of their own activities, enabling them to access the daily happenings within the administration, rather than as analysts from whom “good” and “acceptable” reasons are sought to justify their actions. These interviews must be analyzed exclusively by the interviewer, which supposes an epistemological analysis of the discourse and also requires researchers to bear in mind that any interview is a social relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee and necessarily leads to data bias, even though experience and several tips can help limit these biases.
Storytelling is a common and pervasive practice across human history, which some have argued is a fundamental part of human understanding. Storytelling and narratives are a very human way of understanding the world, as well as events, and can serve as key tools for crisis and disaster studies and practice. They play a tremendously important role in planning, policy, education, the public sphere, advocacy, training, and community recovery. In the context of crises and disasters, stories are a means by which information is transmitted across generations, a key strategy for survival from non-routine and infrequent events. In fact, the field of disaster studies has long relied on narratives as primary source material, as a means of understanding individual experiences of phenomena as well as critiquing policies and understanding the role of history in 21st-century levels of vulnerability. Over the past several decades, practitioners and educators in the field have sought to use stories and narratives more purposefully to build resilience and pass on tacit knowledge.
Process tracing is an in-depth case study method that can be used to study how causal processes play out within cases. Given its focus on processes and temporality, process tracing is a useful method for analyzing crisis and crisis decision making in the fields of foreign policy analysis and public policy. As can be seen from its name, process tracing involves theorizing a causal process that is then traced by investigating the observable manifestations of the operation of the process as a whole in the more minimalist variant, or for each of its parts in the more maximalist variant. Minimalist process tracing is typically used early in a research program as a form of plausibility probe to understand what types of processes might be linking a crisis event with particular outcomes like policy change. Maximalist process tracing can then be used once there is preliminary knowledge about processes, and where the goals become gaining a better theoretical understanding of how they operate, and making stronger causal inferences using more direct evidence of their operation.
J. Paul Dunne and Nan Tian
The literature on military spending and growth has become extremely large and diverse and has reached no clear consensus. This lack of consensus should not be unexpected, because there are a number of issues that make the empirical analysis of the relationship difficult to undertake and make it difficult to identify the particular impact of military spending on growth. Some of these issues have had relatively little attention in the literature. The historical context can affect the military spending and growth relation, so there is no reason not to expect different results for different periods. There are various theoretical perspectives that can be used in any analysis and numerous channels through which military spending can affect growth, which means that studies can differ in how they specify the models. In estimating models, a range of econometric techniques have been used, which can affect the results. There also remain issues of identification that present problems for empirical analysis. The observed correlation between output and military expenditure is likely to be negative if the system is driven by strategic shocks and positive if it is driven by economic shocks. Improved military spending data and the existence of some shocks, such as the end of the Cold War, is helping in dealing with identification, but it still remains a concern. Overall, more recent studies show that, in general, it is much more likely that military spending has a negative effect on economic growth than was evident in the past. The issues involved in undertaking any empirical analysis on military spending and growth mean that the debate is likely to continue.
Jori Pascal Kalkman
Crises are uncertain and disorderly situations, which temporarily destabilize power relations and impede centralized control over operational crisis responders (e.g., firefighters, police officers, paramedics). Consequently, responders wield considerable autonomy and have room to act on their own initiative. They make crucial decisions in frontline crisis operations based on their situational understanding and professional expertise. As such, they are similar to other “frontline workers” (or street-level bureaucrats) in government service. Their important work has attracted increasing attention in crisis management literature, in which three tensions have emerged. The first tension revolves around the nature and extent of frontline discretion. In some studies, these frontline responders are presented as implementers who are considerably constrained by extensive rules, planned routines, and detailed protocols. Other studies, instead, emphasize the independent and proactive behaviors of frontline workers who use their discretionary space to shape crisis response efforts. The second tension centers on the reasons for discretionary actions. Typically, crisis scholars analyze social and rule-based pressures on frontline workers to explain their discretionary actions as they implement public policy. Critics, instead, build on responders’ own stories to grasp their meaning-making attempts and use this as a basis for understanding why and how responders enact their discretionary practices. The final tension concerns the advantages and disadvantages of frontline worker discretion. There is a widespread belief that frontline discretion in crisis response enables much-needed improvisation, creativity, and flexibility, but increased discretion may also raise legitimacy questions and potentially burden frontline workers with complex ethical dilemmas. To move the understanding of frontline workers in crisis management forward, further research is required in several areas. Empirically, frontline workers are increasingly working in transboundary crisis networks, so that more research is necessary to understand how such crisis networks affect frontline discretion. Theoretically, literature on frontline work in crisis management has remained by and large isolated from other micro-level theories on crisis management, even though there are opportunities for fruitful cross-fertilization with adjacent literatures.