Politics of Science Online: Discursive Negotiation of Risk and Uncertainty Regarding Radiation Contamination

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Keiko NISHIMURA , Communication Studies, University North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
As the details of nuclear accident in 2011 unfold, many Japanese were forced into the world of scientific jargons that might determine their life. Some believed the scientists’ assessment of “no immediate harm,” others alerted the danger of both short- and long-term harm of radiation contamination. As Beck (1992) notes that “the sources of danger are no longer ignorance but knowledge” (p183), the knowledge itself confused their understanding of radiation and political stance. While the national discourse was seemingly splitting into two “dangerous” and “safe” camps, many have attempted to assess the risk themselves by negotiating their ideas about safety, health, and lives through various discussions in mass, print, and online media. Especially the open discussions in the social media, whose popularity is tied to the activities in the triple disaster (Slater, Nishimura and Kindstrand 2012), is an important sites where laypeople’s experience, knowledge, and logic are contested and negotiated. 

This paper attempts to illustrate how popular epidemiology (Brown 1987, 1997; Murphy 2006; Novotny 1994) and scientific knowledge about radiation contamination is negotiated in Japanese online discursive space. I compare and contrast two major rhetorics: one that is skeptical of, and another that claims immediate harm of radiation. I center my analysis to those on Twitter, due to its open architecture and ability to identify individual participants. My aim is to explore the different ways in which participants of online discussion are making sense of the situation, from their living space, food, water to their health, family, job, etc. Furthermore, I look at the debates around Yamamoto Taro, an activist politician who was elected to Upper House in 2013 by centering his campaign around anti-nuclear policy, and how such online discursive space may have ramification to the transformation of political in Japanese society.