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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 193105 Find in a Library
Title: Sensational Cases, Flawed Theories (From Contemporary Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice: Essays in Honor of Gilbert Geis, P 45-66, 2001, Henry N. Pontell and David Shichor, eds. -- See NCJ-193102)
Author(s): Diane Vaughan
Date Published: 2001
Page Count: 22
Sponsoring Agency: Prentice Hall Publishing
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Sale Source: Prentice Hall Publishing
Criminal Justice and Police Training
1 Lake Street
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
United States of America
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Book (Softbound)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The author uses her experience gained from her study of the fatal launch of the space shuttle "Challenger" in 1986 to examine the problems inherent in studying "sensational cases" of organizational misconduct; she warns of the danger of over-generalizing from such instances while paying too little attention to what makes them unique.
Abstract: Based on her 9-year study of NASA's fatal decision to launch the "Challenger," the author shows how delving into primary sources contradicted the historically accepted explanation of the disaster by contrasting the conventional wisdom about what happened with a revisionist account. Further, she identifies the socially organized sources of distortion and misunderstanding that outside investigators of a sensational case confront. Issues discussed in this regard are retrospection and hindsight, the autonomy and interdependence in interorganizational regulatory relations, and documentary accounts and the reduction of information. The essay concludes that the "Challenger" disaster is not an isolated example of the discrepancy between an historically accepted explanation of a sensational case and what research based on primary sources produces. Advice for scholarly inquiry is offered. First, researchers must maintain a critical stance about the media and official inquiries, since both frame their findings for public consumption. Second, although sensational cases tend to provide abundant data, it is important to remain sensitive to the limitations of that data. Third, because of the wealth of information accessible in sensational cases, a "landmark narrative" may develop prematurely, making it difficult for more lengthy, comprehensive, and complex studies to gain acceptance if they contradict the "landmark narrative." Fourth, scholarly inquiry into sensational cases of organizational misconduct must not only give attention to how and why they are different, but also be balanced by inquiry into the unsensational cases. 35 notes
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Case studies; Corporate crimes; Data analysis; Data collections; Investigative techniques; White collar crime; White collar crime causes
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