Anatomy of a Failure: Why Some Disasters are Unavoidable.

Research output: Working paper

40 Citations (Scopus)


This paper looks at the fateful 1988 fuselage failure of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 to suggest and illustrate a new perspective on the sociology of technological failure and the question of whether such failures are potentially avoidable. Drawing on core insights from the sociology of scientific knowledge, it highlights, and then challenges, a fundamental principle underlying our understanding of technological risk: idea that ‘failures’ always connote ‘errors’ and are, in principle, foreseeable. From here, it suggests a new conceptual tool for Disaster Theory, by proposing a novel category of man-made calamity: what it calls the ‘Epistemic Accident’. It concludes by exploring the implications of Epistemic Accidents and sketching their relationship to broader issues concerning technology and society, and social theory’s approach to failure.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLondon School of Economics: Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


  • Disaster
  • Aviation Accident
  • Accident
  • Aviation
  • Normal Accident Theory
  • Epistemic Accident


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