737-Cabriolet: The Limits of Knowledge and the Sociology of Inevitable Failure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


This article looks at the fateful 1988 fuselage failure of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 to suggest and illustrate a new perspective on the soci- ology of technological accidents. Drawing on core insights from the sociology of scientific knowledge, it highlights, and then challenges, a fundamental principle underlying our understanding of techno- logical risk: a realist epistemology that tacitly assumes that tech- nological knowledge is objectively knowable and that “failures” al- ways connote “errors” that are, in principle, foreseeable. From here, it suggests a new conceptual tool by proposing a novel category of man-made calamity: the “epistemic accident,” grounded in a con- structivist understanding of knowledge. It concludes by exploring the implications of epistemic accidents and a constructivist approach to failure, sketching their relationship to broader issues concerning technology and society, and reexamining conventional ideas about technology, accountability, and governance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-762
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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