Not Defined By the Numbers: Distinction, Dissent and Democratic Possibilities in Debating the Data

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Karly BURCH, University of Otago, New Zealand
This paper considers how metrics and standards used to govern food systems are negotiated and challenged by citizens. In situations of risk and uncertainty, metrics are deployed to guide the activities of producers and consumers, categorizing both practices and goods as safe or unsafe, good or harmful, and ensuring the maintenance of a stable and predictable pattern of life. In post-2011 Japan, government efforts to establish safe levels of radiation in food can be seen to participate in this stabilization, which both reproduces the existing economy and the political system following the re-emergence of a radical participant: the anthropogenic radionuclide. Yet, people are not passive participants in their governance, and have established their own ways of navigating food safety in opposition to government standards. This paper argues that those who must live by the numbers may also negotiate their relationship with, and define themselves against, these values. Thus, numbers can be seen to instigate dissent, distinction and deliberation, as participants strive to establish their authenticity beyond reductionist parameters. Taking an assemblage approach to exploring the Japanese government’s standards for radionuclides in food, this paper discusses the ways that numbers are actively engaged with to create and vocalize a more emancipatory political subjectivity through the assemblage of deliberative publics.