Charles Perrow

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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.[1] [2]

Academic appointments[edit]

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 notable accomplishments include serving as the Vice President of the Eastern Sociological Society. Perrow was also a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Perrow served as a Resident Scholar for the Russell Sage Foundation at the Shelly Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. Perrow was a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton NJ. Perrow was a member of the Committee on Human Factors at the National Academy of Sciences of the Sociology Panel for the National Science Foundation. Charles Perrow is an organizational theorist and the author of six books, most noteworthy being: Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (1984; revised, 1999), The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (2007; revised, 2011) and Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of American Capitalism (2002). [3]

Notable works[edit]

Normal Accidents Theory

Normal Accident Theory suggests that in complex, tightly coupled systems, accidents are inevitable. In this theory, common engineering approaches to decrease system vulnerability and failures add too much complexity to the system and cause just the opposite effect leading to inevitable failure of the system. In numerous books and articles, Perrow explains the theory and provides examples to visualize the theory in action.

Perrow, Charles. 1999. Normal Accidents. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

In Charles Perrow’s book Normal Accidents, Perrow analyzes the social side of technological risk. The critical finding discussed in the book is that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety, which includes building in additional warnings and safeguards do not work because the added system complexity only makes failure inevitable. Perrow states that by adding to the complexity of the system creates new possibilities of accidents. These systems are usually so intertwined that the failure of one part leads to the failure of the entire system. He provides several examples to visualize his theory in action. A failure example Perrow uses is the Three Mile Island Nuclear accident, in this situation, all the major systems experienced failure in just 13 seconds. There was no possibility for the operator to fix the problem before it was too late. Perrow concludes that systems need to be designed with the human operator in mind and realize that the system will fail and plan the system to calculate for all possible failure scenarios. If that is not possible, the system should be abandoned. [4]

Perrow’s Power Theory

Perrow believes that it is in our human nature to accumulate without bounds. He suggests that efficiency is not in our nature, and so what drives capitalism is the desire to accumulate resources. One argument he makes is that individual capitalists prefer accumulation to efficiency, and will focus their efforts on accumulation. This theory has changed the way people view the history of large organizations.

Charles Perrow, Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002

In his book, Perrow discusses the evolution of the American society and economy from the 1800’s until now. Perrow talks about how the industrialists used their power to create bigger and bigger organizations, and were focused on gaining more wealth and power. The conditions were right for this to occur with little or no government regulations the two big industries attributed for creating this movement are the textile and railroad industries. Perrow insists that it was a lust to accumulate wealth and power that drove the American capitalism evolution. Charles Perrow examines classic organizational theory and redefines it in his own terms. Perrow introduces several theories and models including: the human relations model, the Neo-Weberian model, the institutional school model, the agency theory, and transaction-costs economics and discusses power in organizational analysis. [5]

The Next Catastrophe

Charles Perrow has brought the vulnerabilities of the United States systems forward in an attempt to encourage the planning and prevention efforts of failures whether accidental or by design.

Perrow, Charles (2011, New Edition) (2007). The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

In his book, Perrow argues that instead of focusing efforts to protect targets the U.S. should reduce their size to minimize damage and reduce their attractiveness to terrorists. He mentions three causes of disasters: natural, organizational, and deliberate. Perrow suggests that our best hope lies in the deconcentration of high-risk populations, corporate power, and critical infrastructures such as electric energy, computer systems, and the chemical and food industries. Perrow discusses the rise of the catastrophe threats whether from terrorism, natural disasters, or industrial accidents. He reveals that FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are so ill equipped to protect us. [6] [7]

Research interests[edit]

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".[8] 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).

Selected publications[edit]

Books

   Perrow, Charles (2011, New Edition) (2007). The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
   Perrow, Charles (2002). Organizing America: Wealth, Power and the Origins of American Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
   Perrow, Charles and Mauro F. Guillén (1990). The AIDS Disaster: The Failure of Organizations in New York and the Nation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
   Perrow, Charles (1984). Normal Accidents: Living With High Risk Technologies. (Revised edition, 1999). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
   Perrow, Charles (1972). Complex Organizations: A Criticial Essay. (Third edition, 1986). McGraw-Hill Publishers.
   Perrow, Charles (1972). The Radical Attack on Business. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
   Perrow, Charles (1970). Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View. Tavistock Press.

Chapters

   Charles Perrow (2010). “Organizations and Global Warming,” Constance Lever-Tracy, ed., Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society. 2010, New York: Routledge. 59-77
   Charles Perrow (2010). The Meltdown Was Not an Accident, in Michael Lounsbury, Paul M. Hirsch (ed.) Markets on Trial: The Economic Sociology of the U.S. Financial Crisis: Part A (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 309–330

Articles and Papers

   Perrow, Charles (2013). Nuclear Denial: From Hiroshima to Fukushima. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 69 Issue 5.
   Perrow, Charles (2012). Getting to Catastrophe: Concentrations, Complexity and Coupling. The Montréal Review.
   Perrow, Charles (2011). Fukushima and the Inevitability of Accidents. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
   Perrow, Charles (2011). Technology Can Nudge Climate Change Politics. Bloomberg News.
   Perrow, Charles (2011). Fukushima, risk, and probability: Expect the unexpected. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
   Perrow, Charles (2010). Giddens and the Developing Nations Examine Global Warming. Review Essay, Contemporary Sociology, 2010, v 39, no 4, 411-416.
   Perrow, Charles (2009). “Modeling firms in the global economy.” Theory and Society, 2009, v 38:3, May, 217-243.
   Perrow, Charles (2008). Software Failures, Security, and Cyberattacks. Paper.
   Perrow, Charles (2008). “Disasters Evermore? Reducing our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters,” Social Research 75:3 Fall, 2008, 1-20.
   Perrow, Charles (2008). “Complexity, Catastrophe, and Modularity,” Sociological Inquiry 78:2, May 2008 162-73
   Perrow, Charles (2008). “Conservative Radicalism,” Organization 15:6 2008 915-921

[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Charles Perrow (November/December 2011 vol. 67 no. 6). "Fukushima and the inevitability of accidents". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. pp. 44–52.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ http://sociology.yale.edu/people/charles-perrow
  3. ^ http://sociology.yale.edu/people/charles-perrow
  4. ^ Charles Perrow, [1], Normal Accidents, 1999
  5. ^ Charles Perrow, [2], Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism, 2002
  6. ^ Charles Perrow, [3], The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters, 1999
  7. ^ Princeton, [4], 2015
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Yale University, "Charles Perrow", Yale University, 2015

External links[edit]