Fukushima, Tsunamis and Earthquakes: The Meanings of Risk in the 21st Century

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 62
Oral Presentation
Celine-Marie PASCALE , American University, Washington, DC
The most significant nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, struck in Japan on March 11, 2011 as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor failed in the face of an earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  In Fukushima, the public witnessed a combination of natural disaster and human error that resulted in local devastation, national trauma, and global consequence. In a global landscape, the representational practices through which the events of Fukushima have gained meaning are central, both within and across national boundaries. 

The representational practices of major media outlets gain even greater hegemonic significance when travel to such catastrophes is restricted or complicated by the catastrophe itself.  Representational practices not only produce specific forms of knowledge, they also construct what comes to be understood as legitimate forms of inquiry.  

In the United States, the presence and meaning of “risk” in relation to Fukushima reproduced very specific relations of power/knowledge. This paper examines over 2100 articles about the catastrophes at Fukushima published in 4 major U.S. media outlets between March 2011 and March 2013.  The analysis includes articles from two newspapers, the Washington Post and The New York Times and two nationally prominent blogs, Politico and The Huffington Post.

The representational practices that construct “risk” cannot be fully understood without asking “risk for whom?” and “risk to what?”  Using a close textual reading and poststructural discourse analysis, the paper deconstructs the representational practices that construct “risk” for plant workers, the general population of Japan, economies, ecosystems and energy resources.

 Among the many consequences of the increasing globalization of “risk,” is the reality that the presence and meaning of “risk” will continue to be highly mediated.  This paper contributes to the discipline through nuanced discussion of representational practices and the increasing globalization of risk.  It suggests implications for social theory and social research more broadly.