Home > Articles and Research, Ideas and Opinions > Journal article – Scapegoats, villians, and disasters

Journal article – Scapegoats, villians, and disasters

What is this?

Drabeck, T., & Quarantelli, E. L. (1967). Scapegoats, villains, and disasters. Society, 4(4), 12-17.

Why is it interesting?

Writing in the context of the USA in the 1960s, this paper is a classic piece on the personalization of blame following disasters. It argues that “the need to blame someone for a catastrophe can hamper the search for what caused it” (p.12), particularly structural causes rooted in the nature of our social systems.

Here are a few notable quotes:

As we see it, personal blame assignment in American society cannot be avoided; it is rooted in the institutional framework. Investigative agencies are bound by laws that force them “to point the finger” only at persons who are potentially legally prosecutable. The grand jury might think the system to blame; but under the law it could only bring legal charges against human beings. Only individuals can be indicted and brought to trial-not social structures. (p.15)

Personalizing fault-blaming our problems on the inadequacies or guilt of individuals rather than on systems or institutions-is not confined to disasters. (p.17)

If the individual is the source of all difficulties, why raise questions about the society? (p.17)

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