chapter  4
23 Pages

Accidents will happen

This chapter addresses the 1957 accident at Windscale demonstrating the centrality of historical sensibilities for contemporary theories of reflexive modernisation. As such the Windscale fire was a nodal event of considerable significance for the atomic science social movement and the British state. The case illustrates the need to appreciate the ‘regulatory reach’1 of particular regimes of institutional reflexivity which become sedimented in organisational cultures. Such historical forms exert a powerful influence on the contemporary distribution of reflexive capacities within societies as they relate to established techniques. Whilst my observations arise from the industrial consolidation of the atomic science social movement there are certain generic elements with wider implications for contemporary theory. In particular this case study illustrates the institutional limitations on the transformative potential of Beck’s critical reflection arising at an individual or plant level (Beck et al. 1994; Beck 1997). In terms of Giddens’ work this highlights the related need to explore the ways in which individual reflexivity becomes transformed into collective, socially organised expressions. Beck and Giddens emphasis on knowledge within reflexivity needs to be located alongside the prevailing organisational cultures, institutional anatomies, and the relevant ensemble of related institutions which orchestrate the process of reflection. Further, this effort needs to be made within an appropriate ‘time frame’ (Adam 1998) as ultimately this is a vital determinate of relevance.