Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 2 Issue 1 (March 1994), Pages 1-60

Software and Contingency: The Text and Vocabulary of System Failure? (pages 31-38)

This paper discusses some general issues relating to limitations upon the use of software for control of hazardous contingencies. The approach taken considers how far a given piece of software can be regarded as having the properties of a literary ‘text’, a fairly abstract discussion which leads on to quite practical implications, for example, in current studies of the malfunctioning of computer‐controlled machines used for medical radiation treatment. Successful accident avoidance relies upon control, but the degree of control possible within a software package is limited because the meaning of any particular section of software is not absolute, but is understood in relation to its context. When the context changes, meaning may shift and control may lapse. The question is also raised of how far similar analyses and similar limitations might apply to analyses of systems of technology and to systems of management considered as text‐like systems.

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