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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - How Can Societies Learn From or For Catastrophes?

3rd November 2015, 17:30 to 18:30, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College, Professor Heike Egner, Alpen-Adria-University Klagenfurt


This lecture will show different examples to point to the difficulties of societal learning in general and to the specifics of learning in reference to disasters and catastrophes. 

The maxim “learning from damage” refers to the general assumption that we, as individuals, are capable of learning from experienced calamities. We take it for granted that this also holds true for groups, enterprises, or the respective society as a whole, as well as the (disaster-) management organisations and institutions for prevention and mitigation involved. The idea of learning from disasters is expected to be better prepared or to be more efficient the next time. Thus, we assume that the results of these learning processes are preserved as "knowledge" in the collective memory of a society, and that patterns of practices of learning have been adopted on this basis. However, looking closer at post-disaster learning, there is some evidence for the opposite: Analysing past calamities fairly often reveals hardly any societal learning (e.g. Fukushima) and, if so, “learning” often turns out to consist of quick fix solutions with unintended side effects (e.g. the suicidal Germanwings pilot), or the disaster memory rarely lasts more than two generations (e.g. South Pacific-Tsunami 2004).

This lecture is free and open to all. 


Details about Professor Heike Egner

Directions to St Mary's College

Map - St Mary's College is denoted as building No: 10

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.