Charles B. Perrow is an emeritus professor of sociology at Yale University and visiting professor at Stanford University. He is the author of several books and many articles on organizations, and is primarily concerned with the impact of large organizations on society.
After attending the University of Washington, Black Mountain College (N.C.), and UC Berkeley, he received his PhD in sociology from Berkeley in 1960. He has held appointments at the universities of Michigan, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, SUNY Stony Brook, and Yale, where he became emeritus in 2000. Since 2004 he has been a visiting professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, in the winter and spring quarters.
His major theme is the impact of large organizations upon society. His structure and power view is explored in successive editions of Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay, first published in 1972, 3rd edition, 1986 (McGraw Hill). It is applied in the award winning Organizing America: Wealth, Power and the Origins of American Capitalism (2002, Princeton).
A related theme has been the structural analysis of risky systems, emphasizing “interactive complexity” (non linear systems) and “tight coupling” (cascading failures). This was explored in the award winning Normal Accidents: Living With High Risk Technologies (1984, rev. ed. 1999, Princeton). The inspiration for Perrow's book was the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, where a nuclear accident resulted from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. The event was an example of a normal accident because it was "unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable". The role of organizations in disasters is discussed further in The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (2007, rev. ed. 2011)
His other books are the award winning The AIDS Disaster: The Failure of Organizations in New York and the Nation (1990, Yale, with Mauro F. Guillén); The Radical Attack on Business (1972, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich); Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View (1970, Tavistock Press); and Organization for Treatment: A Comparative Study of Juvenile Correctional Institutions (1966, The Free Press, with David Street and Robert D. Vinter).
- Charles Perrow (November/December 2011 vol. 67 no. 6). "Fukushima and the inevitability of accidents". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. pp. 44–52.
- Perrow, C. (1982), "The President’s Commission and the Normal Accident", in Sils, D., Wolf, C. and Shelanski, V. (Eds), Accident at Three Mile Island: The Human Dimensions, Westview, Boulder, pp.173–184.
- Homepage at Yale
- Curriculum Vitae (PDF)
- Perrow, Charles. Getting to Catastrophe: Concentrations, Complexity and Coupling (The Montreal Review, December, 2012)
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