Radioactive Governance: The Politics of Expertise after Fukushima

William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Maxime Polleri

Abstract: My research focuses on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and on the release of radioactive contamination throughout Japan. Based on 14 months of fieldwork in Japan, the research examines the crisis of expertise that ensued when many citizens became wary of state institutional experts, especially in their capacities to explain and manage the problems engendered by residual radioactivity.In this context of public skepticism, I ask the following: how does the Japanese state attempt to govern the hazards of radioactive contamination, and ultimately, the reconstruction of normality in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster? I argue that the management of radiation hazard after Fukushima includes an important reorganization of state expertise, which now moves beyond traditional forms of risk communication and institutional experts.My research advances policyand public-relevant understandings of repliesto radioactive contamination by highlighting the needs of appropriate educational infrastructure around radiation risk, while emphasizing democratic opportunity for citizen-government collaboration. Within post-Fukushima Japan, anthropological investigations of the governance of radiation hazards are essential for understanding the configurations of cultural schemas, social relationships, and technological interplays that led individuals to “accept” life amidst toxicity and other to refuse it.


Speaker's Biography: Maxime Polleri is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at York University. His current research focuses on the 2011 Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear disaster and on the crisis of expertise that ensued, in which many citizens have become wary of state institutional experts, especially in their capacities to manage the problems engendered by residual radioactivity. In such a context, his dissertation is concerned with how the Fukushima crisis has participated in the formations of new forms of expertise and consequently, new means of governing toxicity. It asks: How is radioactive hazard being governed in the wake of a crisis of legitimacy against state institutional expert? Based on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork throughout Japan, the dissertation argues that averting the crisis of expertise and managing the reconstruction of what “normality” involves in a post-Fukushima Japan include a fundamental reorganization of state governance, where the dissemination of radiation hazards cannot simply rest on dry, clinical manner in which government-packaged expertise about radiation was initially promulgated to a former lay public. In particular, these shift in the governance of radioactive risk are increasingly being enacted by promoting a state-sponsored affective embodiment toward nuclear matter, as well as by encouraging the endeavor of citizen science, where former lay citizens now track and monitor residual radioactivity in their environment. His fieldwork was funded by the Japan Foundation and the Canada Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. His work has been published in Anthropology Now, Anthropology Today, and Medical Anthropology Quarterly Second Spear.