CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

Despite the recent proliferation of research on high-risk organizations, investigating the root causes of organizational breakdown, mistake, and misconduct, social scientists still know very little about the ways high-risk organizations motivate workers to participate in life-threatening activity. This article responds to this significant lacuna by analyz-ing how the United States Forest Service trains firefighters to conceptualize risk and death. Drawing on intimate ethnographic research and content analyses of official documents (especially fatality reports), it describes the process by which firefighters come tacitly to accept (though not without resistance) the common sense of their host organization and to develop a specific disposition towards risk-taking, the illusion of self-determinacy, through which they view firefighting as an activity void of danger. Firefighters quickly learn to classify fallen crewmembers as the incompetent dead; thus, although one might reasonably assume that the death of a firefighter poses a threat to a firefighter’s illusion of self-determinacy, the reverse is actually the case.


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