Complexity, Catastrophe, and Modularity

Publication Date: 
August 2008
Sociological Inquiry Volume 78, Issue 2, pages 162–173, May 2008


In a recent book (Perrow 2007), I make the argument that we have neglected the safest and surest means of preventing worst cases—make them mild cases by reducing the deaths and destruction. We will never do well with prevention, remediation, and recovery from natural, industrials/technological, and terrorist disasters. Our organizations and our political system are simply not up to it. The best we can do is to reduce the size of the targets of nature’s wrath, industrial errors, and terrorist attacks. The vast disaster literature rarely examines the possibilities of deconcentrating populations in risky areas, hazardous materials concentrations, and reducing the power of the huge organizations that sit astride our critical infrastructure. We should reduce our vulnerabilities by reducing the size of that which is vulnerable. It will not be easy, but what we are doing now is not working.