Vernacular Epistemologies of Risk: The Crisis in Fukushima

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Celine-Marie PASCALE, Sociology, American University, Washington, DC, USA
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake of a 9.0 magnitude set off a tsunami that destroyed Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.  The International Atomic Energy Agency assessed the meltdown on International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) as a 7—a classification shared only with the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in 1986.  Amid the dramatic transformations to the natural, built, and social environments brought about by these events (known as 3/11 in Japan) the ensuing epistemic changes arising from this disaster have been less obvious but perhaps no less profound in their consequences.   With a specific concern for the epistemic crises emerging in and through the representations of 3/11 my analyses illustrate the variety of ways through which public health risks and their implications were constructed.  It is based on a comprehensive collection of all articles published between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013 about the Fukushima disaster in four of the most prominent media outlets in the United States: the Washington Post and The New York Times and two nationally prominent blogs, Politico and The Huffington Post.  In particular, I examine the practices through which these U.S. media constructed the presence and meaning of public health risks resulting from the nuclear meltdown.  My analysis draws from poststructural discourse analysis generates complex ways of thinking about the relationships between the symbolic and the material, the empirical and the theoretical.  I argue that the media produce vernacular epistemologies for public discourse that constitute not only particular kinds of knowledge but also particular kinds of global citizens in the service of dominant economic markets and political landscapes.