Colloque organisé par le CSO, IMT Atlantique et IRSN, du 13 au 14 décembre 2018 à Montrouge:

Appel à communication « Lessons learned ? Studying learning devices and processes in relation to technological accidents »

Édité le 3 Mai 2018

How do organizations and sociotechnical systems “learn lessons” from accidents? After the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011, the immediate and most significant direct response by industry, governments and regulatory agencies was that they would learn from the accident. Such framing of accidents, disasters or crises as opportunities to improve the operation and regulation of sociotechnical systems has become an increasingly prominent feature of discourses following adverse events.

This learning idiom is also taken up by social scientists who study accidents, be these nuclear, chemical, air traffic, railway, oil spills, or ‘natural’ disasters (Blandford & Sagan 2016; Fujigaki 2015; Jasanoff 1994; Downer 2011; Lofstedt and Renn 1997; Dowty et al. 2011). Such studies claim to provide a more complex account of accident causes and consequences (Birkland 2009), compared to the narratives produced by institutional actors.

In certain industries (e.g. nuclear power), the relatively low number of large-scale accidents suggests the need for other ways to identify possible weaknesses in sociotechnical systems. Complex modeling, scenario planning, or simulation exercises provide opportunities to test these systems and to draw lessons from observed limitations or failures. The Cold War played an important role in this trend: the tools forged to prepare for a nuclear attack later served to address risks in a wide range of domains (Collier and Lakoff 2008). A growing number of social scientists have studied the invention and development of these tools, in institutions such as the Rand Corporation (Andersson 2012).

Yet these scholarly works rarely address the phenomenon of lesson learning itself, nor its concrete role in transforming or maintaining social practices such as knowledge production, norms and regulations or the operation of sociotechnical systems. The aim of this conference is therefore twofold.

First, we aim to better understand and qualify these lesson-learning processes by drawing on insights from sociology, science and technology studies, history, management, and political science. What actors participate in lesson learning discourses? Which processes and devices are set up in order to make learning possible? On what kinds of social practices is learning supposed to act? How and under which conditions do learning attempts actually transform social practices? How are they assessed and evaluated? What are the temporal dynamics of learning processes that often aim to analyze the past in order to better anticipate the future?

The second aim of this workshop is to foster a debate around the different methods and approaches through which scholars are able to understand learning processes, as well as the social and material conditions that render these studies possible. Papers may address methodological issues including access to fieldwork and data, as well as the prospects, opportunities and limits of transforming social science research into operational lessons for government and industry actors.

Further information

Submissions and selection

The submission deadline for abstracts (up to 400 words) is June 1st 2018.
Paper acceptation will be notified by the end of July 2018.
Full papers are expected by the end of October 2018.
Proposals should be sent to:

Organizing committee

Valerie Arnhold – ATER and PhD Candidate in Sociology, Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, CNRS-Sciences Po
Olivier Borraz – CNRS Research Professor of Sociology, Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, CNRS-Sciences Po
Anne Colard – Department Assistant Social Sciences, IMT Atlantique
Stéphanie Tillement – Associate Professor of Sociology, IMT Atlantique

Scientific committee

Olivier Borraz – CNRS Research Professor of Sociology, Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, CNRS-Sciences Po
Olivier Chanton – Researcher in Human and Social Sciences, IRSN
Claude Gilbert – Emeritus CNRS Research Professor of Political Science, Pacte, IEP de Grenoble
Gabrielle Hecht – Frank Stanton Foundation Professor of Nuclear Security, Professor of History, Stanford University
Benoit Journé – Professor of Management, Université de Nantes
Paul R. Schulman – James Irvine Professor of Government at Mills College in Oakland, California
Stéphanie Tillement – Associate Professor of Sociology, IMT Atlantique

Conference venue and organization

Beffroi de Montrouge 2 Place Emile Cresp 92120 Montrouge
Metro line 4, station “Mairie de Montrouge” Salle de commande 2.2, second floor

Please feel free to direct any question or comment to