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‘Researching Disasters’ A talk by William M (Bill) Taylor
June 14, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
The Moore Institute in association with The School of Education are pleased to host a seminar on Researching Disasters by Professor William M (Bill) Taylor
Histories, representations and ethics of catastrophe
This seminar draws on my research over a number of years, on different projects and building histories that all seem to involve disasters of one kind or another: broken bridges, collapsed buildings and drowned cities. My research methods have varied, including approaches borrowed from the philosophy of science, from architectural history and design theory, and from the broad church of disaster studies. The research ethos has been multi-, inter- or trans-disciplinary as prevailing fashion across the humanities can describe it, although experience suggests these terms are not what they’re cracked up to be. Discussion of research methods in the academy typically begins by assuming the ‘right’ correspondence of project aims and outcomes so that working between or across academic disciplines is more than likely to throw a spanner in the works, to send a project haywire or make one’s compass go awry. (These are all metaphors and outcomes from the illuminating history of technological failure.)
So, how do we research things that go ‘wrong’? How do we study disaster and why? Homer-Dixon sees hope in the “upside of down” (2006), that studying catastrophe can teach us how we can “reinvigorate the economic, political, and social systems that sustain us.” There may be more than optimism behind his theory. With its emphasis on “innovation” as the linchpin between human suffering and social renewal there could be collusion with prevailing neoliberal thinking. Nonetheless, researching disasters—and teaching about them may bear consideration. Educators and educationalists in particular may find an opportunity to “reinvigorate” forms of pastoral care and character-building hitherto relegated to the dustbin of Victorian era school history, so that studying disaster can be a preventative to hubris and cultivator of personally-transformative and progressive values.
William M. Taylor is Professor of Architecture at the University of Western Australia where he teaches architectural design and history and theory of the built environment. Research interests include architecture, social and political theory. A list of his publications can be found here: http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/person/Bill.Taylor