Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 19 Issue 1 (March 2011), Pages 1-64

How to Hunt a Very Reliable Organization (pages 14-20)

A summary of my long engagement with Todd R. LaPorte as colleague, mentor, and fellow field worker in the study of large, reliability‐seeking organizations that manage risk‐bearing technologies is used to explore the relationship of our fieldwork approaches and techniques to other ethnographic means of sociological research. In particular, I discuss three organizations that have been at the core of what is generally known as the ‘high reliability organization’ project: air traffic control; nuclear power plant operations; and nuclear‐powered aircraft carriers at sea. In retrospect, our fieldwork was as intimate as that characterizing participant observers; yet, because of the complexity and risk involved in the sites of our study, we could only observe, and not participate.

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