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We are interested in organizational and personal mechanisms of accounting for failure. How do explanations of failure emerge? We welcome papers from diverse contexts, but with the expectation that they will ethnographically explore failure, responsibility and the relationship between the two.
This panel will explore the relationship between failure and responsibility. Rather than try to nail down failure (or indeed success) as an analytical term, our emphasis is on first, how failure is experienced as an emic category, and second, the kinds of explanations and responses that are generated by such apprehensions of failure. These may be standard cultural strategies for attributing responsibility for actions or new narratives generated by new kinds of failure. While organisational responses to perceived failures may be one aspect of this, we particularly want to explore how individuals within those organisations account for things falling apart, or indeed how individuals explain their own perceived failures to themselves. What sense of self and what kind of relationship between the self and the world is summoned in such narratives? To what extent are failures identified with a cause – and is that cause seen as systemic, circumstantial, malevolent intent, ineptitude, an artifact of new complexities, a failure of the self or something else entirely? Conversely, what does it mean to be identified as responsible by someone else for something going wrong? Thus while individuals may attribute blame to ‘the system’ along the lines of Herzfeld’s notion of a secular theodicy, is there a growing tendency for the figure of the individual to be held responsible for systemic failure or for systems failure to be held responsible for individual action, as Laidlaw points out with regard to new statistics measures of institutional irresponsibility?