Diane Vaughan

Boundaries, Boundary Work and Repair: Resilience and Institutional Persistence in Challenging Times. The Case of Air Traffic Control

Over the life course, the system persisted and increased in safety despite actions of powerful social actors in the system’s environment that created periods of decline when risk increased. More recently, the system survived two crises: President Reagan’s firing of over 14,000 striking controllers in 1981 and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Surprisingly, even these two most extreme shocks were absorbed by the existing structure rather than eliminating or destroying parts of it, changing its basic direction, or being taken over by privatization or single corporate ownership. So – what makes the system so safe – or is it? And, what do controllers do that technology can’t replace?

Diane Vaughan is professor of sociology at the Columbia University, New York. Her research focus is on institutional persistence, change, culture and cognition, and agency. She relies on cross-case comparison to understand how things go wrong in organizations: most recently, the production of scientific and technical knowledge in complex socio-technical systems across time and social space.

Selected publications:

Vaughan, Diane (2021): Dead Reckoning: Air Traffic Control, System Effects, and Risk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Vaughan, Diane (1996): The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Vaughan, Diane (1986): Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vaughan, Diane (2014): “Theorizing: Analogy, Cases, and Comparative Social Organization.” In: Richard Swedberg (ed.), Theorizing in the Social Sciences. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 61-84.

Vaughan, Diane (2006): “NASA Revisited: Theory, Analogy, and Public Sociology.” In: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No, 2, 353–393.

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