Disaster sociology

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The sociology of catastrophes is a branch of sociology that deals with the social aspects of disasters . Because disasters are recurring basic social facts - one could interpret them with their consequences as particularly dramatic processes of social change - the sociology of disasters theoretically belongs to general sociology. However, it is often classified as a special sociology. At the same time, it is closely related to the neighboring areas of interdisciplinary risk research and mass psychology , which deal with the causation of disasters and the psychological coping with their consequences. The reason for the establishment of the discipline in Germany was the improvement of the political and legal precautions for disaster control in Germany.


In detail, the sociology of disasters deals with the socio-structural requirements and consequences of disasters as well as with the social processes during their occurrence and afterwards. The first includes the question of which groups or strata of the population are particularly affected by disasters. The latter include the social action of the victims, the organizations involved in disaster control and the social change triggered by disasters as a whole or limited by sectors . It also includes the analysis of catastrophic cases from the " sociology of risk ".

The sociology of disasters in Germany initially dealt with direct questions of civil protection . In view of 16 different legal definitions of " catastrophe " within the framework of the disaster control legislation of the federal states, theoretical efforts were made from 1971 onwards at the later disaster research center of the Institute for Sociology of the University of Kiel to define the colloquial term "catastrophe" sociologically and conceptually . The corresponding theoretical approach is also known as the Kiel School of Disaster Sociology. These efforts have been continued since 2011 at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Free University of Berlin .

The sociology of disasters (similar to e.g. agricultural sociology ) is still far removed from the German sociological mainstream . In the USA, a sociology of disaster had already developed in the 1950s and 1960s - that is, during the Cold War phase. The main focus here was on the consequences of an attack with thermonuclear bombs. Wieland Jäger accused the theoretical models developed there that they were based on unrealistic, ideological assumptions: an idyllic, classless, conflict-free society until the onset of the catastrophe, a pronounced consensus of values ​​and a spontaneous transition to a state of equilibrium after the catastrophe. In this perspective z. B. mass hysteria and anomic behavior externally caused disturbances of a state of equilibrium, which do not have their origins in society. In the USA, the critical contribution made by German sociology of disasters, which called these assumptions into question, is certainly appreciated.

A relevant representative of the newer sociology of disasters in the USA is Robert A. Stallings . He taught at the University of Southern California until 2004 and analyzed a. a. the possible social consequences of earthquakes in large cities - such as the emergence of ghost towns - and organizational strategies for coping with them. The Italian sociology of disasters (e.g. Quarantelli) deals with this topic.

The description of possible process flows was specific to the Kiel approach. Today, questions of vulnerability play a role in the international discussion . H. the susceptibility of systems and societies to disasters, and their vulnerability and resilience, d. H. Resilience to disasters and the ability to recover from disasters play a greater role. Research has also focused on the social consequences of terrorist attacks since 2001 . This also includes attempts at their mathematical modeling.

Theoretical approaches

Various sociological approaches try to conceptualize the phenomenon “ catastrophe ”. They only mean the same events in part.

In the - starting with Enrico Quarantelli - very pragmatically oriented US-American Sociology of Disaster , catastrophe has only recently been separated from disaster . The disaster is seen as a supra-regional social network of local damaging events.

Organizational sociological approaches in the wake of Charles Perrow emphasize the normality and frequency of the occurrence of catastrophic accidents in increasingly complex, closely coupled socio-technical systems that can cause corresponding long-range effects.

In individual case studies, Jared Diamond describes the disastrous effects of social and political decisions and structures (e.g. over-centralized political decisions) that can destroy the ecological, economic and cultural foundations of entire societies, but also the successful strategies of disaster prevention.

In Germany, "catastrophe" is defined with categories from general sociology as follows:

In systems theory (succeeding Niklas Luhmann ) it figures as a pure product of communications and describes something that is both inescapable and unwanted: a special form of " danger ".

For Ulrich Beck , catastrophes are civilizational “side effects” or unplanned consequences of the industrial society's wealth production. Without a closer analysis of the concept of catastrophe, Beck describes the current risk society as “a disaster society . In it the exceptional situation threatens to become normal. ” Current risks and potential catastrophes strengthened authoritarian measures up to a“ totalitarianism of danger prevention ”, which threatens democracy (keywords: nuclear state, surveillance state, Gorleben).

Kiel School of Disaster Sociology

According to Lars Clausen , “catastrophe” is process-, figuration- and exchange theory understood as an extremely accelerated, extremely networked and extremely demonized process of social change that can occur in any form of society.

Key concepts or models of this Kiel approach are the expert-layman conflict , the FAKKEL stage model , the LIDPAR phase model and the Noah effect . So Clausen called after the biblical survivors of the flood Noah a type of catastrophic social change, in which someone who has healing survived him, attributed that he was to (, divine "from above" charismatic ) "chosen" Service. or the scapegoat search .

FAKKEL stage model

The stage model FAKKEL was published by Clausen in 1983 and sees the starting point for disasters in the lack of communication between experts and laypeople and, ideally, describes six social stages of social change leading to disaster. Characteristic of this often ritual-like process is the breakdown of the exchange between experts and lay people:

  1. the " F riedensstiftung" - a drastic emergency has been resolved, social change there is thorough, fast and realistic been, experts and lay people are successful allies;
  2. the " A lltagsbildung" divided into " institutionalization " and "routinization" - a consequence unnecessarily appearing and very slow new social change, but the experts establish itself apart from the laity with increasing distance from the Peace Foundation; the experts are ascribed magical potential;
  3. the “ K let formation” - the opposition of experts and laypeople - becomes radicalized , d. H. Both subcultures separate from each other and express themselves increasingly contemptuously (experts versus laypeople) or suspicious (vice versa), so that new types of catastrophe possibilities develop unnoticed;
  4. "the K catastrophes, such enters" - novel disasters occur suddenly ( rapid ) a;
  5. the " E hands all security" - the social networks break down, confidence in the experts has gone completely lost, the laity are inevitably shortsighted fortwurstelnden 'disaster realists';
  6. the " L iquidation of values", disregarded in practice and now forgotten screened Tenden old value systems of the desperate state is stationary, there is a slowing of change. As a result, society goes under, divides, joins other societies (invaders) or finds its own 'solution' (= new "peacemaking").

LIDPAR process model

LIDPAR is a process model for an occurring catastrophe that Wolf R. Dombrowsky introduced into German disaster sociology in 1983. It describes six phases:

  1. the " L atenzphase" - is a threatening loss event is possible ( "in the air"), but still prevails uncertainty, it is necessary, "call" placed;
  2. the " I dentifikationsphase" - the warnings are concretely, it is necessary to adjust to a disaster certain type;
  3. the " D efinitionsphase" - the danger of entering is categorized so also to alarming powers and responsibilities referred;
  4. the " P ersonalisationsphase" (sociologically the most important) - "Savior" and "victim" (possibly already "perpetrators") are identified;
  5. the " A ktionsphase" - the disaster is controlled, prevented or alleviated ( "insert"); The downfall of the victims and rescuers is not excluded;
  6. the " R ückkoppelungsphase" - it is criticized, lessons are learned, Prophylaxevoschläge for Coming will possibly organized by surviving actors or other formulated.

The gradual realization of the disastrous consequences of DDT use could be cited as an example of this process .


The theoretical and practical results of disaster sociology are not very clear in mainstream sociology, but are received in German interdisciplinary disaster-related research in medicine, natural and engineering sciences and psychology and, based on this, in the practice of disaster protection . This can also be explained by the participation of disaster sociologists in the protection commission at the Federal Ministry of the Interior .

See also


  • International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. Official Journal of the Research Committee on Disasters, International Sociological Association, Bryan (Texas)
  • Lars Clausen: Open questions in the sociology of epidemics. In: Austrian Journal for Sociology. Special issue “Aspects of the Social Constitution of Medicine”, Vol. 10, 1985, Issue 3/4, pp. 241–249.
  • Lars Clausen: Gross social change. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1994, ISBN 3-8100-1141-X .
  • Lars Clausen, Wolf R. Dombrowsky : Introduction to the sociology of catastrophes. Federal Office for Civil Protection, Bonn 1983, ISBN 3-7894-0090-4 .
  • Lars Clausen, Wolf R. Dombrowsky: Warning practice and warning logic. In: Journal of Sociology. Vol. 13, 1984, pp. 293-307.
  • Lars Clausen, Wolf R. Dombrowsky, Reinhard LF Strangmeier: German control systems, networks and integration deficits in the creation of public goods, civil protection and disaster control in Europe. (= Civil defense research. New series. Volume 18). Federal Office for Civil Protection, Bonn 1996, DNB 949537756 .
  • Lars Clausen, Elke M. Geenen , Elísio Macamo (eds.): Terrible social processes. Theory and Empirical Disaster. LIT-Verlag, Münster 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6832-X . (with general sociological theoretical approaches [Clausen, Japp, Quarantelli, Stallings], research results, extensive international bibliography and a "disaster-sociological glossary ")
  • Wolf R. Dombrowsky: Disaster and civil protection. Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 3-8244-4029-6 .
  • Wolf R. Dombrowsky: To hell with the hyphen. On the justification of the catastrophes (-) sociology in Germany by Lars Clausen. In: Ders., Ursula Pasero (Ed.): Science, literature, catastrophe. Westdeutscher Verlag, Wiesbaden 1995, ISBN 3-531-12785-3 , pp. 108-122.
  • Wolf R Dombrowsky: Not Every Move Is A Step Forward. In: Ronald Perry , Enrico L. Quarantelli (Eds.): What Is A Disaster? New Answers To Old Questions. Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia 2005, pp. 79-96. ( What Is a Disaster? At scribd.com )
  • Wolf R. Dombrowsky: Mental and psychological effects. In: 20 years after Chernobyl . A balance from the point of view of radiation protection. (= Reports of the Radiation Protection Commission (SSK ). Of the "Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety". Issue 50). H. Hoffmann Fachverlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-87344-127-6 , pp. 159-204.
  • Wolf R. Dombrowsky: Critical Theory in Sociological Disaster Research. In: RR Dynes, B. de Marchi, C. Pelanda (Eds.): Sociology of Disasters. Contribution of Sociology to Disaster Research. Franco Angeli, Milan 1987, pp. 331-356.
  • Wolf R. Dombrowsky, John K. Schorr: Fear and the Masses. Collective Behavior Research in Germany. In: Mass Emergencies and Disasters. Vol. 4, H. 2, 1986, pp. 61-89.
  • Elke M. Geenen: Sociology of the prognosis of earthquakes. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-428-08376-8 .
  • Elke M. Geenen: Disaster Risk Management - Disaster Management. In: Carsten Felgentreff, Thomas Glade (Hrsg.): Natural risks and social disasters. Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8274-1571-4 , pp. 225-239.
  • Elke M. Geenen: Warning of the population. In: Dangers and Warning. (= Writings of the Protection Commission. Volume 1). Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid , Bonn 2009, ISBN 978-3-939347-11-8 , pp. 59-102.
  • Wieland Jäger : Disaster and Society. (= Sociological Texts . Volume 103). Luchterhand, Neuwied 1977, ISBN 3-472-72603-2 .
  • Charles Perrow : Normal Disasters. The inevitable risks of large-scale technology. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-593-33840-8 .
  • W. Ronald, Perry, Enrico L. Quarantelli (Eds.): What Is A Disaster? New Answers To Old Questions. Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia 2005, ISBN 1-4134-7986-3 .
  • Robert A. Stallings: On Sociological Theory and the Sociology of Disasters: Moving from Periphery to Center. In: Presidential Address, International Research Committee on Disasters (RC 39), World Congress of Sociology, Durban, South Africa 2006.
  • Robert A. Stallings: A Weberian Program for Disaster Research. 1999.
  • Martin Voss: Symbolic forms. Basics and elements of a sociology of catastrophe. Transcript, Bielefeld 2006, ISBN 3-89942-547-2 . (especially the introduction) (PDF; 262 kB)

Web links


  1. See e.g. B. the “race” and class-specific selection of the victims of the Okeechobee hurricane
  2. ^ Wieland Jäger : Disaster and Society. Neuwied 1977; Lars Clausen : Swap. Drafts of a Sociological Theory. Munich 1978.
  3. So by Siegfried Jachs: Introduction to Disaster Management. Hamburg 2011, p. 48.
  4. John K. Schorr: Some Contributions German Katastrophen-Soziologie Can Make to the Sociology of Disaster. In: Int. Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. Vol. 5, No. 2, August 1987, pp. 115-135, here: p. 116.
  5. cf. z. BJM Kendra, T. Wachtendorf: Elements of Resilience After the World Trade Center Disaster: Reconstituting New York City's Emergency Operations Center. March 19, 2003, (online)
  6. See e.g. B. at the University of Southern California started the 2008 project of the National Science Foundation by Adam Rose and Garrett Asai to spread the fear of terrorism, (online) ( Memento of July 4, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  7. ^ Enrico L. Quarantelli : Social behavior related to disaster. In: Lars Clausen, Elke M. Geenen, Elísio Macamo (eds.): Horrible social processes. Münster 2003, p. 25.
  8. Jared Diamond: Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survice. Penguin Books, 2005, ISBN 0-241-95868-7 .
  9. See e.g. B. Niklas Luhmann: Ecological communication. Wiesbaden 2004.
  10. Klaus P. Japp : On the sociology of the catastrophe. In: Lars Clausen, Elke M. Geenen, Elísio Macamo (eds.): Horrible social processes. Münster 2003, pp. 77-90.
  11. ^ Ulrich Beck: Risk Society. Frankfurt am Main 1986, p. 105.
  12. Following on from Norbert Elias : The focus is on the connection between loss of control of the situation, the emergence of dramatic emotions, the loss of the ability to assess events in a distant manner and thus also the ability to plan rationally in largely unpredictable processes.
  13. ^ Lars Clausen: Exchange. Drafts of a Sociological Theory. Munich 1978, final chapter.
  14. Elke M. Geenen : FAKKEL. In: Wolf R. Dombrowsky , Ursula Pasero (Hrsg.): Science - Literature - Catastrophe. Opladen 1995, pp. 176-186.
  15. ^ Lars Clausen, Elke M. Geenen , Elísio Macamo (eds.): Horrible social processes. Theory and Empirical Disaster. LIT-Verlag, Münster 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6832-X , esp. Pp. 60–63, 343–347. (with general sociological theoretical approaches [Clausen, Japp, Quarantelli, Stallings], research results, extensive international bibliography and a "disaster-sociological glossary ")
  16. ^ Lars Clausen, Elke M. Geenen, Elísio Macamo: Horrible social processes. Theory and Empirical Disaster. Lit, Münster 2003, p. 347.
  17. transition to downfall. Sketch of a macro-sociological process model of the catastrophe. In: Lars Clausen, Wolf R. Dombrowsky (Hrsg.): Introduction to the sociology of catastrophes. Civil defense research. Volume 14, Bonn 1983, pp. 41-79.
  18. See for example: Protection Commission at the Federal Minister of the Interior : Third Hazard Report. Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, Bonn 2006.