Undergraduate Course Code: POL487H1S L0201
Topics in International Politics II
What Went Wrong? A Post Mortem of Political Disasters, Catastrophic Policy Failures, and Epic Marches of Folly
This is a seminar about disasters that human beings inflict on themselves. Why do individuals, groups, and societies make repeated, and in hindsight, often easily predictable, damaging mistakes? Why do they persist in courses of action they should have known –or in fact knew –were likely to produce disastrous results. Why is it that smart, well-trained, conscientious people continue to be the source of catastrophes they could have seen coming? From botched economic reforms to ruinous urban planning, from failed wars to slow-moving environmental calamities, history is replete with examples of manmade disasters. It seems that all the accumulation of knowledge, scientific and technological progress, and the evolution of societal and political norms are not sufficient to eliminate these damaging marches of folly.
The seminar will try to answer these questions through the examination of the record of various avoidable disasters across different levels of analysis, from the local to the international. These cases would allow us to explore prominent social science explanations that may account for these recurring failures. We will therefore be able to pose questions not only about disaster, but also about the study of disaster. How does the puzzle of self-inflicted, apparently avoidable catastrophe appear when seen through the lens of the different political and social-science explanations? What can each one contribute to understanding and perhaps ameliorating the tendency of societal projects to go so badly wrong?
Format and Requirements