chapter  3
28 Pages

Modernity and the emergence of accidents

The classical social theorists were silent about accidents, and other disci­ plines claimed that accidents were not really accidents. At what point did it become possible to talk about accidents? Two literatures from the early twentieth century in which accidents do appear are the writings of the European anthropologists, who were concerned to delineate the “primi­ tive” cultures they studied from those of Europe, and those of develop­ mental psychologists. The accident, or a belief that it could happen, proved to be a useful indicator of both the difference between the primi­ tive and the modern in anthropology, and between the child and the adult in psychology. This chapter traces the appearance of the accident in this discourse of modernity, and identifies two conditions of its possibility; namely a consensus about rationality and the emergence of probabilistic thinking.