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Complexity and catastrophe
Volume: 7, Issue 3-4
The relationship between tightly coupled systems, complexity and the potential for disaster is well established. Research into complex systems has led to a greater appreciation of their instability. However, in the main, studies have confined themselves to surface mapping of system interactions and to attempts to identify areas of weakness. At the same time, it has been recognized that catastrophic failure is rarely, if ever, uni-causal. Accidents often have long histories, sometimes originating decades before the precipitating event. Frequently, post-disaster analysis takes years. This special issue invites an analysis of the relationship between complexity and narrative. In doing so it poses a challenge to conventional ways of understanding complex systems. This paper looks at catastrophe and, particularly, at the Bhopal Disaster in India in 1984. It is a response to the call to examine how complexity and narrative might be brought together in the analysis of systems failures. In this sense, it provides an opportunity to attempt to disentangle the complex narratives structures which compete for interpretative validity in the aftermath of catastrophic failure.