This article surveys the work of one of the most prominent theorists of accidents today, Paul Virilio. Particular focus is given to the May 6, 2010, Flash Crash. This event is used to measure the worth of Virilio's accidentology, as it is viewed as a harbinger of the integral accident, a catastrophic incident that is experienced simultaneously and universally. While Virilio is supported for drawing attention to the technologically mediated accidents that threaten hyperconnected societies, his method and focus are found wanting. His preference for suggestion over qualification means that he eschews empirical elaboration, and his fixation on the political economy of speed proceeds without reference to a political economy of wealth. This asymmetry results in grand theorizing about general conditions that do not exist, and it overlooks the ways in which accidents, crises, and disasters are endemic to the economic system.
Accidentology: A Critical Assessment of Paul Virilio's Political Economy of Speed
Steve Matthewman is an associate professor in sociology at the University of Auckland, where he teaches courses on introductory sociology, the sociology of technology, and the underbelly of modernity. He is the author of Technology and Social Theory (2011) and coeditor, with Lane West-Newman and Bruce Curtis, of Being Sociological (2013, 2007); with Claudia Bell, of Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand (2005); and with Ian Carter and David Craig, of Almighty Auckland? (2005). He is currently working on a book-length project on the sociology of accidents and disasters.