Linking Socio-Technical Vulnerability to Socio-Political Environment: The Case of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Friday, July 18, 2014: 5:42 PM
Room: Booth 48
Oral Presentation
Sulfikar AMIR , Division of Sociology, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
This presentation revolves around the sociotechnical system that generally characterizes the functioning of modern infrastructures. It departs from one central question: Where does vulnerability originate from in the sociotechnical realm? The primary objective of this study is to identify and explain how vulnerability emerges and propagates in a sociotechnical system leading to disastrous outcomes. Searching for the origins of sociotechnical vulnerability allows us to recognize critical areas within complex infrastructure system where vulnerability is likely to emerge due to a combination of technical, social, cultural, and political factors. Furthermore, this study seeks to reveal how the development of vulnerability at the micro level where human operators and technical components interact is tightly linked to the socio-political environment at the broader level. Drawing on an empirical study in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, two main hypotheses are set for examination in this study. First, it is posited that vulnerability is a process that unfolds over time.  As a complex system, the fragility of sociotechnical system is emergent in nature. The more structurally coupled and sophisticated a system, the more fragile it is. Second, vulnerability is likely to be hidden due to the socio-political environment in which conflicted interests may entail pressures to ignore potential risks of system failure. The significance of the proposed study lies in its contribution of a new understanding on the origins of vulnerability and how it is hidden from our observation caused by socio-political structures. Integrating concepts from the sociology of disaster and science and technology studies (STS), this study develops a model of socio-technical network linked to the socio-political environment to describe how vulnerability is materialized into a disaster with profound consequences.