Post a (200 word APA Style) brief description of the two crisis theories you selected and explain why you believe these theories are the most relevant to crisis management and response. Then analyze the strengths and limitations of each of the two crisis
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Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 29, No. 4, 2007: 497–512 R
TOWARD A TAXONOMY OF DISASTER AND CRISIS THEORIES
Arthur Sementelli Florida Atlantic University
This article frames and defines the role of public administration the- ory in disaster planning and response. It is argued that there is little if any systematic theorizing in disaster planning and response beyond mainstream heuristics and possibly ad hoc classification schemes. By offering a basic taxonomy of existing disaster management theory literature, this article points toward opportunities for future theoreti- cal development. Specifically, this taxonomy uses a concern for tools and a concern for process to categorize decision, administrative, eco- nomic, and social theories related to disaster and crisis management. This article highlights the Love Canal case as an example of how alternative approaches to theorizing disaster can help explain seem- ingly irrational phenomena.
Disasters and crises have gained an increased interest and attention in the media, among governmental subunits, and among a variety of nongovernmental organizations. This increased attention, of course, tends to emphasize crisis and disaster responses as well as how to plan for or address them systematically. Many recent scholarly treatments tend to be contextually driven, often focusing on a single case of a disas- ter or crisis based on a specific event. This crisis or disaster event focus has presented us with research and discussions on terror and terrorism (Rosenthal & Kouzmin, 1997), on natural disasters (Lerbinger, 1997), and to a lesser extent crises of economics (Shrivastava, 1993) and the environment. Regardless of the context of the disaster situation, be it terror, climatic, or economically driven, we find that the underlying the- ories and heuristics used are remarkably similar.
There unfortunately has been little attention paid to how we broadly understand, address, and otherwise respond to disasters, particularly if we remove discussions of the development of standard operating proce- dures, policies, and other routinized responses to such catastrophic events. Consequently, much of the scholarship regarding natural disas-
2007, Public Administration Theory Network
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ters, crises, and catastrophe tends to fall into the realm of decision rules, policies, or other functionalist approaches to these problems broadly understood as crises or disasters without any introspection regarding how they unfold and their corresponding theoretical grounding.
As a mechanism to advance scholarship in this area, this paper broadly reviews a subset of the current literature on crisis, disasters, and response in an attempt to create a basic taxonomy of current disaster theory along the lines suggested by Huffman (1989), using a cross sec- tion of available literature on the topic and then offering suggestions to develop the theoretical and conceptual foundations of theorizing crises in public administration. Taxonomy refers simply to the practice of clas- sification based on some general principles. In this case, these groups are not driven into categories strictly by principle, but are instead clus- tered together based on the family resemblances (Wittgenstein, 1953) that they tend to share, based on their processes, strategies, and goals. In brief, family resemblances, according to Wittgenstein, are either con- scious or unconscious similarities found among situations, symbols, and strategies. The categories developed for this taxonomy are a starting point for discussion given that observations of similarity may not in fact reflect the similarities proposed by other scholars.
THEORIES OF DISASTER
There is substantial breadth of coverage in the literature on disaster. Theories and practices tend to vary from the simplest approaches (Moore, 1956) to complex discussions of the social and political ele- ments that emerge from disaster situations (Gotham, 2007). It is impor- tant to note that much of the disaster literature tends to focus heavily on the tasks of response, planning, and preparation. These tasks, com- bined with mitigation and management, could be called disaster admin- istration. There are remarkably few treatments that seek to understand notions of why certain events were disasters (Fowlkes & Miller, 1982) or how various groups are affected (Enarson, 1998; Gotham, 2007). The following sections present a framework for ordering much of the main- stream literature on disaster.
An extensive literature review and careful reflection unearthed two dimensions framing and naming categories of disaster administration, a concern for process and a concern for tools. The categorization of the- ory in disaster research in this article is grouped along these two dimen- sions, in four categories. The first category is the literature on decision making and decision theory, which is also the largest of the categories. The second category focuses on leadership and management and is la-
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beled administrative theories. The third category encompasses social theories, including writing that bemoans the state of the literature as a whole and calls for more/better science, more/better theorizing, and more/better development of theories and practices to address social as- pects of disaster and crisis. The fourth category of theory in disaster research, labeled economic theories, could loosely be described as a cluster of resource economics theory and it was also the smallest of the groups, given that its approaches tend to be limited to projections of financial impacts, risk management, and shifts in insurance.
Table 1. Categories of Disaster Administration Theory
High Decision Theories Administrative Theories
Rational approaches Leadership Policies Management
Standard Operating Procedures Ethics/Administrative Basic Heuristics/ Satisficing Responsibility
Geographic Information Systems Concern for Tools Economic Theories Social Theories
Resource allocation Social Construction Economic Impacts Systems Critical
Postmodern Gendered approaches
Low Concern for Process High
Table 1 illustrates a two dimensional framework to begin organizing the theories related to crisis and disaster administration. Decision theo- ries as described in this research refer to approaches to disaster and crisis that most often rely on a series of stages, steps, heuristics, or pro- cedures to understand, describe, or cope with the crisis or disaster. This quadrant contains a number of data driven, outcome based approaches including decision making, satisficing, and other data intensive ap- proaches. Administrative theories, in contrast, tend also to emphasize processes as well as tools, rather than focusing on certain utilitarian out- comes exclusively. Economic theories in this context represent interest- ing abstractions, thought experiments, and other approaches to disaster and crisis that often lack the utilitarian outcomes of decision theories, making them useful primarily as a mode of description rather than a mode of action. Finally, social theories tend to be almost entirely pro- cess oriented, focusing on the means and methods of action rather than classical outcomes (mitigation, repair, relief). These social theories tend
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to be most useful for post hoc reflection and discussion. In essence, the decision and administrative theories are understood as having primarily a tactical focus; the economic and social theories emphasize a strategic or abstract focus. All color how we understand theories of disaster and crisis.
One of the most common modes of study for theorizing about crises and disaster are decision theories. They are valuable as tools to reach certain commonly understood utilitarian goals, but often have little con- cern for the processes used to reach them. These theories emerge from the standard decision making literature such as the classic research by Simon (1976/1945), Allison (1971), Cohen, March, and Olsen (1972), and many others. Research in this area tends to frame and reframe dis- aster and crisis theories from the contexts of perception (Barnett et al., 2005), information access (Anand & Forshner, 1995), as well as issues of data quality and the contemporary state of research (Smith, 2006).
One quickly discovers that the contexts are varied. It includes discus- sions of mad cow disease (Anand & Forshner, 1995), public health (Barnett et al., 2005), and the need for better tools, such as GIS (geo- graphic information systems) and remote sensing technology (Levy, Gopalakrishnan, & Lin, 2005), the benefits of using simulations (Smith, 2004), adaptation (Lin, Zhao, Ismail, & Carley, 2006), and the applica- tion of systems theory (Petak, 1985). Despite this variety, however, most of these contexts represent little more than direct applications of concepts such as satisficing, decision making under uncertainty (Anand & Forshner, 1995), and risk perception and anxiety (Barnett et al., 2005) that have changed very little from when they were first developed by Bernoulli (1954), Pascal (Connor, 2006), and Simon (1976). Conse- quently, we discover that the decision “theories” of crisis and disaster suffer from most if not all of the problems plaguing the policy literature: a reliance on top down approaches, production line models, and other hyper-rational structures (Miller, 2002), and a relative neglect of pro- cess based concerns. These ordered rational models, or more appropri- ately heuristics or tools, in practice fail to encompass anything but the basics of the issues, context, and content surrounding crises and disasters.
The decision theory classification of the disaster and crisis literature is quite coherent. It consistently reflects the goals and intent of the ear- lier scholarship. However, it offers precious little from the perspective of theory development, theorizing, or critique. Instead it tends to favor
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application, evaluation, and routinization consistent with most of the top down, data driven, or otherwise empirical approaches to decision making that have informed literature in the social sciences for decades.
A notable exception to this is the work of Paraskevas (2006), who introduces some discussion of complexity theory to the literature. This exception, of course, offers some evidence for why there is such a reli- ance on classical and neoclassical approaches to theories of crisis and disaster. One might argue that as a field of study, crisis and disaster management is still in its infancy and developing. Continuing with the development of a taxonomy (Huffman, 1989) would provide a much needed basis for its development as an interdisciplinary field of study.
Another common area of research in crisis and disaster falls under the heading of administrative theories, which include management the- ories, leadership theories, and ethics (see Table 1). This includes schol- ars who articulate the need for leadership, for reform, and for long term change (Boin & ’t Hart, 2003) as well as those who clamor for the de- velopment of crisis leadership competencies (James & Wooten, 2005). This category has the unfortunate problem of being linked with one of the most heavily examined yet poorly understood areas of organiza- tional literature, making it problematic as a field of inquiry given the current state of the leadership literature in general.
For example, if one begins with the multitude of ways to define lead- ership (Rost, 1991) and then considers the mainstream debate regard- ing the nature of leadership and whether it can be taught, one quickly discovers that, at its core, using leadership as a basis for theorizing about crises and disaster is akin to building a house on sand. The weak- nesses in the leadership literature are understood and are being dis- cussed (Fairholm, 2004; VanWart, 2003), offering some hope for future use in disaster administration.
Perhaps if one instead considers literature on leadership concur- rently with the development of literature on crisis or disaster manage- ment, they could form a symbiotic relationship. If leadership is, in fact, coping with change (Milner & Joyce, 2005), and disaster and its concep- tions have undergone drastic changes as articulated by Quarantelli and Dynes (1977), then there could be some support for developing the two bodies of literature in tandem. Rather than assuming that leadership studies should automatically inform disaster and crisis theory, we might instead use the opportunities that such events afford us to better under-
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stand both phenomena in a synergistic or complementary fashion rather than from a strict linear approach.
Additionally, it could be beneficial to begin exploring how to com- bine leadership and other bodies of literature to help inform the broader understanding of crisis and disaster. One such example comes from the work of Smits and Ezzat-Ally (2003) who combined discus- sions of role theory, learning theory, and elements of decision theories with a leadership study to model what they call “readiness.” Readiness is a function of role knowledge, training, integration of roles and re- sponsibilities that leads to rehearsed, coherent, and consistent behav- iors coordinated at all levels of the organization (p. 2). Research such as this offers some inroads for the development of practical theory, if not high theory (dealing with highly abstract broad concepts), thereby in- creasing the potential to move crisis and disaster theory toward a more mature understanding.
A significant amount of the literature on crisis and disaster theory tends to focus on specific managerial challenges. The most basic chal- lenge, of course, surrounds the need to rebuild and respond in a timely way (Moore, 1956). More recently, Drabek (1985) identified issues of coordination among existing personnel, structures, and emergency re- sponders in the context of teams and research on decentralization. Voogd (2004) builds on this, highlighting the limitations of command and control based disaster prevention systems while highlighting how decentralization can be an integral part of the process. Additionally, Smith (2004) integrated discussions of management teams into simula- tion processes as a mechanism to provide practical insights that support disaster theory.
Beyond these standard management issues, there recently has been some interest in developing, explaining, and understanding the ethical issues that surround disasters and crises. Kysar and McGarity (2006), for example, discuss the implications of legal action, decision making, and administrative responsibility in light of the Katrina disaster. Addi- tionally, their work raises questions about whether or not climatic disas- ters such as hurricanes can be consistently predicted and evaluated using scientific methods (p. 221), opening the possibility for alternative modes of inquiry.
If one next focuses more closely on the general rubric/discourses of the New Public Management (NPM), we find that it too emerges as a subset of the managerial category. Recall that the basic doctrine of NPM includes some positive need for entrepreneurialism, performance measures, deregulation and decentralization, strong output controls,
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and stringent controls over resources (Milner & Joyce, 2005, p. 73). In certain circumstances these notions of efficiency and streamlined opera- tions have a certain tacit appeal, particularly when recovery efforts be- come mired in regulatory obstacles, powerful negative imagery, and social unrest.
Smith (2006) bemoans the current state of disaster management “sci- ence” (not management science understood as being a part of opera- tions research), advocating the use of performance budgeting as a means to improve things, consistent with mainstream NPM ideals. Basi- cally, Smith offers us a clear link from the disaster literature to the mainstream public administration literature through the language and practices of NPM and its intellectual ancestors, thereby further rein- forcing the perceived value of the managerial theories in the adminis- trative category in Table 1.
Economic theories tend not to focus on process or tactical outcomes, but instead present abstractions to understand or cope with certain as- pects of disaster and crisis as understood within a broad context. Given their low concern for immediate outcomes and process, they instead can inform theory through discussions of long term economic impacts, risk management, loss, and damage using an economic lens. What is inter- esting in the current literature is the relative lack of focus on economic approaches to theories of disaster and crisis. To be fair, there are sev- eral texts, articles, and discussions about “economic disasters” and “ec- onomic crises,” but few, if any, that truly focus on crisis or disasters like Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or Hurricane Andrew. One notable exception is Korac-Kakabadse, Kouzmin, and Kakabadse (2002) who focus on re- source distribution issues in disaster management. Another is Free- man’s (2002) treatise on integrating natural catastrophe issues into broad based development planning. A third example is Rosser (2000) who devotes a few chapters in his neoclassical economics text to issues of economic catastrophe and the role of chaos on systems. These are but three examples of the seemingly rare and often disjointed treatment of crisis and disaster using economics.
The primary area where economic theories of disaster tend to emerge is in the business administration literature. There are any num- ber of risk (Sassa, Fukuoka, Wang, & Wang, 2005), financial (Jorion, 2000), and insurance (Kunreuther, 1996) based models. In each case, the authors tend to model perceptions of risk and try to develop the
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best outcomes possible as a means to sustain the industries associated with the phenomena being examined.
This seems odd considering the overwhelming interest the media often have is damage estimates after most, if not all, catastrophic events. Additionally, if scholars continue to focus almost exclusively on decision and administrative theories, it is clear that both could be effec- tively informed by economics and economic theory. However, this phe- nomenon is not necessarily the best option, in the author’s opinion, for long-term theorizing about crisis and disaster, because it tends to rein- force status quo approaches and their emphasis on tools. We might in- stead look to other disciplines and professions, possibly, to gain insight about theorizing and theory development.
There is another cluster of research, labeled social theories in Table 1, which might best be understood using a social/sociopolitical lens. Along with a high concern for process, this cluster of research, like much of the literature on crisis and disaster, often is narrowly focused, takes a case by case strategy, and carefully delineates the parameters of the discussion regarding some specific geography, geopolitical frame- work, or type of disaster (e.g. Puig & Glynn, 2003). Most notably, Hen- stra and McBean (2005) attempted to contextualize disaster and crisis theory from a social policy standpoint. Specifically their research was defined clearly as a Canadian issue. However, it also pointed toward hazards specific to geographic locations and critiqued the current state of readiness of various nations, including Australia, the United King- dom, the United States, South Africa, etc.
Additionally, however, Henstra and McBean (2005) pointed toward the need for long-term political commitment to disaster management, its policies, and strategies, going as far as to demonstrate the need for a Kuhnian style paradigm shift (referring to the need for a change in basic assumptions within the prevailing theories of a discipline or profession). The clear articulation of the need for research on policy and theory distinguishes this piece from many other contemporary works.
This is not the first call for theory development from the realm of social theory. Stallings (2002) argued that mainstream sociological theo- ries including conflict theory, political sociology, and even the work of Weber could provide valuable insights. Sociologists and social theorists, according to Stallings (2002), should also be interested in disaster re- search as a means to explain or understand “aspects of social structures and processes that are hidden in everyday affairs” (p. 283). In essence,
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disaster and crisis can provide unique opportunities to uncover insights about organizations, groups, and societies as a whole through the exam- ination of abnormal situations (see Durkheim, 1947).
Beyond these examples, there are others that emphasize other social elements of disaster literature. This includes the use of ecological mod- els and environmental factors to uncover stressors (Edwards, 1998; Hewitt, 1983), communication and perception (Mileti & O’Brien, 1992), as well as the role that gender might play in the disaster literature (Enarson, 1998). On the surface, both the work of Mileti and O’Brien (1992) and the work of Enarson (1998) appear to fit neatly within the clearly defined niches common to most disaster and crisis research. They differ, however, by building specific conceptual bridges to broader social theories, offering the possibility to reconceptualize disaster re- search outside the concern for tools, decision rules, heuristics, and stan- dard operating procedures.
Critical theory in particular has gained some ground in the realm of theorizing disaster and crises. Gotham (2007) examined Hurricane Ka- trina through the lens of immanent critique and critical theory gener- ally. Earlier work by Krahl (1975) also highlighted how critical theory could broadly inform discussions of disaster, and there has been inter- mittent attention given to how critical theory also can inform crisis situ- ations such as international peacekeeping (Pugh, 2004). Carr (1997) contributed to this fledgling approach to theorizing about disaster by adding a discussion of psychoanalysis to the discourse of disaster and terror.
Like most of the other elements of the taxonomy being offered in this paper, social construction, critical theory, and postmodernity have been explored to the degree that they might inform the study of crisis and disaster. Ironically, one of the most compelling, or at least interest- ing treatments of disaster and crisis emerged from the realm of social construction. Arguably, it has the potential to contribute much to our understanding of incidents like Love Canal, which do not fall neatly into a set of standard images that evoke emotive responses and move policy agendas forward.
One might also argue that critical theory could be one of the most effective means to understand how issues of marginalization can de- velop alongside more common issues of class, race, and gender in the context of crises and disaster. Understanding the processes of marginal- ization, alienation, and oppression in the context of disasters and crises could lead to powerful insights into the social, economic, administra- tive, and political elements of disasters and crises.
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More generally, it is possible that much of the theorizing at the mar- gins that has been done within the Public Administration Theory Net- work might be able to offer substantial insights into the study of crisis and disaster. Formalizing research around catastrophic events can offer scholars a unique opportunity to face their fears about humanity in a very real way. Arguably, it can offer some exemplary opportunities to build better grounded theory, praxis based theory, and contextually rel- evant theory without necessarily falling into the language of modernity.
Advances in Theories of Disaster
There is a collection of research by groups of scholars that try to address the continuing issues of context, of theorizing, and of applica- tion. Their work by and large appears to be focused on demonstrating linkages among crisis management constructs (Pearson & Clair, 1998), creating a single category of thought around the notion of vulnerability management (McEntire 2004a, 2004b; McEntire & Fuller, 2002; McEn- tire, Fuller, Johnston, & Weber, 2002), or by adapting the dominant lan- guage of decision making and policy studies (Kouzmin, 2007).
In each case we find these scholars consistently bemoaning the state of theorizing about crises (McEntire, 2004a), offering potential linkages (Pearson & Clair, 1998), the need for some shared language (Kouzmin & Jarman, 2004), and the recognition that crisis and disaster are mul- tifaceted phenomena with social, physical, economic, and political ele- ments (McEntire & Fuller, 2002). It seems, however, that many of these scholars remain frustrated, as each generates a great deal of research while the field as a whole remains essentially in its infancy.
Perhaps there is a need to shift thinking away from these more or- thodox approaches to theorizing about disasters and crises. Is there, for example, some sort of social construction of crisis (Altheide, 2002) or disaster (Fowlkes & Miller, 1982) that would be helpful? Clearly, others have considered the possibility that there are certain elements of crises and disasters that do not fit neatly into the mainstream. Is it then possi- ble that social theorists such as Foucault, Nietzsche, Gramsci, and others might offer some insights into the messy, dynamic, and funda- mentally unscientific elements of crisis and disaster? It is possible that the analysis of the modes of power, control, and alienation offered by such social theorists could provide insights into the human elements of disaster administration, such as poverty, crime, despondency, and other areas not currently elucidated by existing approaches.
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Love Canal: The Social Construction of Disaster
As an example, I will focus briefly on the Fowlkes & Miller (1982) report. Even though there have been numerous crises and disasters since Love Canal, this particular case overtly explores the relationship of symbolic interaction, perception, and disaster (p. 2). Consider the event itself. In a small neighborhood located in Niagara Falls, New York, toxic waste was discovered beginning in 1978 after citizens started noticing abnormal occurrences of health problems, such as epilepsy and asthma. The fact that there was toxic waste on the site was part of pub- lic record (it was a landfill in the 1920s). However it did not become a problem until the property was “repurposed” for residential use. Once the clay seals over the landfill were breached, people started experienc- ing the effects of exposure to the toxins. In the beginning, there was a declaration of a state of emergency which stated that pregnant women and children should be evacuated and that people should avoid using their basements and avoid eating food in their gardens (p. 8).
Shortly thereafter, there was some meaning creation (Rings 1 & 2), defining of evacuation zones, as well as some development of a dis- course of fear (Altheide, 2002). This discourse of fear was particularly successful at making the remaining residents of the Love Canal site fearful for their own safety (Fowlkes & Miller, 1982, p. 9). More impor- tantly from the perspective of orthodox approaches, the remedy (re- moving the Dioxin) created a potentially more serious problem (spring snow melts led to Dioxin runoff in the sewers), adding to the climate of fear and uncertainty.
It was this uncertainty and ambiguity that makes the Love Canal in- cident both fascinating and somewhat horrifying. Unlike many other disasters, where it is obvious that destructive events have occurred, Love Canal bore no marks, no overt images, and no visible impact that could be easily seen (Fowlkes & Miller, 1982, pp. 44-45). Consequently, this creates an opportunity to understand disaster as part of a social construction under social theories in Figure 1. The Love Canal ap- proach to theorizing about disaster, in turn, might be transferred with little effort to other events that lack the media coverage, the visibility, or the status on some policy or political agenda. In this case, one can find substantial support for using social construction to understand both crisis and disaster.
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Throughout this brief paper, I have attempted to organize and clas- sify a sample of the different approaches to the study of crisis and disas- ter. The lion’s share of research in this area tends to focus on decision theories, the application techniques, the routinization of responses, as well as some policy and agenda issues. There are also a number of man- agerial, leadership, and ethics-based approaches in the administrative theories category, but by and large they tend to be limited in scope.
Some authors have made efforts to move beyond these more simplis- tic models either by combining and building elements of complexity into them or by trying to reframe the study of disaster and crisis within some broad framework such as vulnerability management (McEntire 2004a, 2004b; McEntire & Fuller, 2002; McEntire et al. 2002) or policy advice (Kouzmin & Jarman, 2004).
What is most interesting, however, at least to this author, is that in certain situations the most interesting explanations, treatments, and dis- cussions of the disaster and crisis literature occur within the context of social construction, within the context of critical theory, and, arguably, within the context of postmodernism. These areas, which would argua- bly fall within process approaches, offer alternatives to tool approaches and could provide interesting explanations for the highly politicized, often irrational processes that accompany the practices of disaster re- sponse. It is in these areas that substantial advancements should be made in the realm of theory development or theorizing.
Consider the possibility of a socially constructed disaster, or a crisis designed to alienate or marginalize groups. The mainstream literature (such as that on decision and administrative theories) can and most likely could get a street-level manager to an acceptable solution to the problem (i.e., how to respond immediately to a disaster or crisis). Will it provide the necessary opportunity for reflection or critique that might afford that same manager the opportunity to prevent the disaster or crisis; or provide the opportunity to understand why the specific inci- dent is understood as a disaster or a crisis in one context, but as a nor- mal or everyday event in other contexts? In some instances, disasters and crises might reveal certain longstanding, wicked problems (Rittel & Webber, 1973) such as poverty, crime, or other social issues.
It is at this point that theorizing becomes important. To understand the nature of both human-made and natural disasters and crises re- quires scholars, practitioners, and citizens to ask and consider certain uncomfortable, possibly irrational, and otherwise sobering questions,
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such as when does a disaster truly become a disaster. Often it happens by name, by decree from some formal authority. When something that affects so many people can be shaped by discourse, imagery, and lan- guage, it demands consideration through the lenses of critical theory, social construction, and postmodernism. None of the mainstream cate- gories provided in the taxonomy developed in this article can ade- quately respond to this issue, creating an opportunity for future scholarship.
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Arthur J. Sementelli is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Adminis- tration, Florida Atlantic University and Managing Editor of the International Journal of Organization Theory and Behavior. His research interests include environmental policy and resource management, public sector economics, criti- cal theory, and organization studies.