Institutional Contradictions and the Organization of Emergency Management

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Dean PIERIDES , University of Melbourne, Australia
This paper provides an institutional analysis of Australian emergency management from the early twentieth century to the present and highlights the institutional contradictions that generate conceivable barriers for effective organization. Building on the literature in organization and management theory that focuses on institutional logics, I argue that to understand why emergency management is riddled with these contradictions it is useful to describe the different logics that are elaborated in organizations. Institutional contradictions in emergency management carry traces of tensions between the church and entrepreneurs from as early as the twelfth century, traces of a style of statistical reasoning that emerges in the seventeenth century and traces of the ongoing struggle to produce a legitimate form of government for the state.

Since the 1990s, Australian emergency management organizations, like many other organizations, have been adopting and implementing risk standards to pursue strategic goals, to meet performance objectives and to ensure accountability. The reliance on risk calculation and management has intensified in the aftermath of disastrous floods and fires in the early twenty-first century. These technologies of risk bring into effect markets that deal with the uncertainty of different objects such as vegetation, weather, fire, and so forth. Emergency management organizations are also tasked with the sovereign responsibility to protect the population, a task that is arguably at odds with the dynamics of markets. When the sovereign and entrepreneurial logics are elaborated in emergency management, risk can materialise in monstrous ways, well beyond the reach of formal organization.