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Catastrophes as Turning Points (UNIB10013)

Undergraduate level 1Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 1
Subject codeUNIB10013
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

There is much to be learned from failure, and in recent history there has been no shortage of examples of human-made catastrophes - the Bhopal Chemical spill, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the Challenger explosion, the Thalidomide disaster, the release of Cane Toads, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the collapse of the West Gate bridge. Through a series of case studies, drawn from different disciplines and from different Faculties, students will appreciate the educative value of human-made catastrophe. Each may be seen as a turning point in our understanding of the world, and our place in it. Students will critically examine the dimensions of failure, the contested accounts of causes and explanations of failure, and will assess the professional, political, institutional, and public responses to failure. Students who successfully complete this subject will be able to convincingly interpret and respond to situations where things go badly wrong through an understanding of:

  • the educative value of human-made catastrophe;
  • the contexts in which things go wrong;
  • the range of factors and causes that are implicated in catastrophe;
  • the theoretical grounds upon which causal claims are made, and are contested;
  • critical assessments of common responses to human-made catastrophe.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • develop an appreciation of the educative value of failure for our understanding of technical, scientific and economic systems;
  • demonstrate an ability to critically evaluate claims about the causes of failure;
  • demonstrate the ability to convincingly critique responses to failure;
  • develop a sound knowledge of the meaning of failure, the dimensions of failure, and the terms in which failure is said to occur;
  • develop a sound knowledge and understanding of iconic examples of failure;
  • develop an understanding of the methods and analytical skills required to conduct a small scale case study.

Last updated: 14 September 2019