Institutional Expertise and Lay Responses to Soil Contamination: The Experience of Farmers in Fukushima

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Tomiko YAMAGUCHI, International Christian University, Japan
Junko HABU, University of California, Berkeley, USA
Contamination of the air, water and land by manmade disasters such as Minamata, Bikini Atoll, Bhopal, and Chernobyl has had a disproportionate impact on individuals and groups who are already economically, socially and environmentally marginalized. The perspectives of lay people offer insightful explanations of the aftermath of disaster (e.g., Fortun 2001; Johnston and Barker 2008; Kuchinskaya 2014; Walker, 2010), but such explanations are often contradicted and muted by the explanations provided by government officials and scientific establishments (Wynn 1992; Yamaguchi forthcoming). This suppression of perspectives takes place because the complex and asymmetrical relations among stakeholders determine what counts as a legitimate knowledge claim. When delving into the question of environmental governance and institutionalized expertise, it is pertinent to raise questions about the experiences of lay people, as it is in interactions with lay people that the informal norms, rules and practices of such institutions manifest most clearly, often with profound effects on the lives of people affected by disasters. This paper examines the politics of expertise pertaining to soil contamination by radioactive isotopes. The central question is how institutionalized expertise in the form of regulations, guidelines and laws is put into practice and how it comes into contact and conflict with lay perspectives. How is the safety of soil interpreted by different groups of people? Who has the authority to determine what is safe? How have lay people responded to the policies implemented by the institutionalized expert bodies and for what reasons? The paper uses data derived from interviews with growers whose farms are located within a 20 to 30 km radius of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant and from participant observations conducted for one year from June 2014. The paper articulates various ways in which the institutionalization of expert advice furthers the delegitimization of lay expertise.