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A crisis (from the Greek κρίσις - krisis; plural: "crises"; adjectival form: "critical") is any event that is, or is expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society. Crises are deemed to be negative changes in the security, economic, political, societal, or environmental affairs, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning. More loosely, it is a term meaning 'a testing time' or an 'emergency event'.
- 1 Definition of a crisis
- 2 Poverty-related crisis
- 3 Economic crisis
- 4 Environmental crisis
- 5 International crisis
- 6 Personal crisis
- 7 Crisis in chaos theory
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Definition of a crisis
Crisis is the situation of a complex system (family, economy, society) when the system functions poorly, an immediate decision is necessary, but the causes of the dysfunction are not known.
a) situation of a complex system – simple systems do not enter crises. We can speak about a crisis of moral values, an economical or political crisis, but not a motor crisis.
b) poor function. The system still functions, but does not break down.
c) an immediate decision is necessary to stop the further disintegration of the system.
d) the causes are so many, or unknown, that it is impossible to take a rational, informed decision to reverse the situation.
Crisis has several defining characteristics. Seeger, Sellnow, and Ulmer say that crises have four defining characteristics that are "specific, unexpected, and non-routine events or series of events that [create] high levels of uncertainty and threat or perceived threat to an organization's high priority goals." Thus the first three characteristics are that the event is
- 1. unexpected (i.e., a surprise)
- 2. creates uncertainty
- 3. is seen as a threat to important goals
- Venette argues that "crisis is a process of transformation where the old system can no longer be maintained." Therefore the fourth defining quality is the need for change. If change is not needed, the event could more accurately be described as a failure.
Apart from natural crises that are inherently unpredictable (volcanic eruptions, tsunami etc.) most of the crises that we face are created by man. Hence the requirements of their being 'unexpected' depends upon man failing to note the onset of crisis conditions. Some of our inability to recognise crises before they become dangerous is due to denial and other psychological responses  that provide succour and protection for our emotions.
A different set of reasons for failing to notice the onset of crises is that we allow ourselves to be 'tricked' into believing that we are doing something for reasons that are false. In other words, we are doing the wrong things for the right reasons. For example, we might believe that we are solving the threats of climate change by engaging in economic trading activity that has no real impact on the climate. Mitroff and Silvers  posit two reasons for these mistakes, which they classify as Type 3 (inadvertent) and Type 4 (deliberate) errors.
The effect of our inability to attend to the likely results of our actions can result in crisis.
From this perspective we might usefully learn that failing to understand the real causes of our difficulties is likely to lead to repeated downstream 'blowback'. Where states are concerned, Michael Brecher, based on case studies of the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) project, suggested a different way of defining crisis as conditions are perceptions held by the highest level decision-makers of the actor concerned:
1. threat to basic values, with a simultaneous or subsequent
2. high probability of involvement in military hostilities, and the awareness of
3. finite time for response to the external value threat
Unemployment and underemployment
Not paying rent may lead to homelessness through foreclosure or eviction. Being unemployed, and the financial difficulties and loss of health insurance benefits that come with it, may cause malnutrition and illness, and are major sources of self-esteem which may lead to depression, which may have a further negative impact on health.
Lacking a job often means lacking social contact with fellow employees, a purpose for many hours of the day, lack of self-esteem, and mental stress.
An economic crisis is a sharp transition to a recession. See for example 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, Argentine economic crisis (1999–2002), South American economic crisis of 2002, Economic crisis of Cameroon. Crisis theory is a central achievement in the conclusions of Karl Marx's critique of Capital.
Crises pertaining to the environment include:
An environmental disaster is a disaster that is due to human activity and should not be confused with natural disasters (see below). In this case, the impact of humans' alteration of the ecosystem has led to widespread and/or long-lasting consequences. It can include the deaths of animals (including humans) and plant systems, or severe disruption of human life, possibly requiring migration.
A natural disaster is the consequence of a natural hazard (e.g. volcanic eruption, earthquake, landslide) which moves from potential into an active phase, and as a result affects human activities. Human vulnerability, exacerbated by the lack of planning or lack of appropriate emergency management, leads to financial, structural, and human losses. The resulting loss depends on the capacity of the population to support or resist the disaster, their resilience. This understanding is concentrated in the formulation: "disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability". A natural hazard will hence never result in a natural disaster in areas without vulnerability, e.g. strong earthquakes in uninhabited areas.
For lists of natural disasters, see the list of disasters or the list of deadliest natural disasters.
An endangered species is a population of an organism which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in number, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters. An endangered species is usually a taxonomic species, but may be another evolutionary significant unit. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has classified 38 percent of the 44,837 species assessed by 2008 as threatened.
For information about crises in the field of study in international relations, see crisis management and international crisis. In this context, a crisis can be loosely defined as a situation where there is a perception of threat, heightened anxiety, expectation of possible violence and the belief that any actions will have far-reaching consequences (Lebow, 7–10).
A personal crisis can occur when events of an extraordinary nature trigger extreme tension and stress within an individual which require major decisions or actions to resolve. A crisis situation can revolve around a dangerous situation such as extreme weather conditions or a medical emergency or long-term illness. A crisis can also be related to a change in events that comprise the day-to-day life of a person and those in their close circle. Such situations may be loss of a job; extreme financial hardship; alcoholism or addiction and other situations that are life altering and require action that is outside the "normal" daily routine.
Crisis in chaos theory
When the control parameter of a chaotic system is modified, the chaotic attractor touches an unstable periodic orbit inside the basin of attraction inducing a sudden expansion in the attractor. This phenomenon is termed as interior crisis in a chaotic system.
- κρίσις, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Seeger, M. W.; Sellnow, T. L.; Ulmer, R. R. (1998). "Communication, organization, and crisis". Communication Yearbook 21: 231–275.
- Venette, S. J. (2003). Risk communication in a High Reliability Organization: APHIS PPQ's inclusion of risk in decision making. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Proquest Information and Learning.
- Mitroff.I. (2005) Why some companies emerge stronger and better from a crisis, p36
- Mitroff & Silvers, (2009) Dirty rotten strategies
- Shlaim, Avi, The United States and the Berlin Blockade, 1948–1949: a study in crisis decision-making, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, p.5
- G. Bankoff, G. Frerks, D. Hilhorst (eds.) (2003). Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People. ISBN 1-85383-964-7.
- B. Wisner, P. Blaikie, T. Cannon, and I. Davis (2004). At Risk – Natural hazards, people's vulnerability and disasters. Wiltshire: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25216-4.
- Factsheet: The IUCN Red List a key conservation tool (2008)
- Borodzicz, E. P. 2005 'Risk, Crisis and Security Management' John Wileys, Chichester. ISBN 0-470-86704-3
- Takis Fotopoulos: "The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy" Special Issue, "The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy", 2005.
- Lebow, RN, Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis: 1981. The Rancho Bernardo Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-2311-0.