Framing Risk and Untrustworthiness: A Study of Anti-Nuclear Activism in Guangdong, China

Monday, July 14, 2014: 6:06 PM
Room: F202
Oral Presentation
Ronggui HUANG , Sociology Departmen, Fudan University, China
Yong GUI , Department of Sociology, Fudan University, China
This study examines frames and framing processes in the opposition to a proposed nuclear material processing plant in Guangdong' Jiangmen city, which led to the suspension of the plan. Systematic analysis of microblog posts belonging to the hashtag of “Jiangmen nuclear crisis” on Sina Weibo revealed two important oppositional frames: risk of radioactive contamination and its hazardous effects on health; untrustworthiness towards the local government and the attendant low level of acceptance of the sitting plan. The framing process was facilitated by the Internet and shaped by contextual factors as well as interactions between government and opponents. The sense of risk has been heightened after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident frequently referred to in the framing process. Yet, unlike the previous literature emphasizing the importance of confidence in “technological fix”, the risk was framed as a social issue associated with the lack of confidence in authorities’ supervision and regulatory capacity which was justified by past scandals regarding shady public projects, food safety as well as the widespread pollution problems in China. The untrustworthiness towards government was initially derived from the short consultation period, procedural unfairness, and inadequacy of information disclosure, and then further reinforced by officials’ inappropriate responses, ill-prepared feedback channels, and more importantly the micro-blogging censorship. As untrustworthiness levels increased, the sense of risk was also enhanced. Besides, the Internet played an important role in revealing the procedural flaws and demonstrating the potential widespread fallout through digital mapping system; it also helped activists counter officials’ discourse head-on. These findings echo previous conclusion that limited public participation in decision-making process is a significant cause of environmental activism. However, the interactive framing processes suggest that the public’s perspectives on environmental issues are inevitably intertwined with government’s responses and the public’s general perception of the government.