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Emering Themes from Yesterday

  1. What themes do you feel were emerging yesterday? Of these, which should we try to develop more today?
22 Comments
  1. Monamie Bhadra permalink

    Perhaps participants would be willing to discuss more substantively the ways in which comparisons of disaster across time, geography and context are possible, and the role of culture (if any) in understanding disasters?

  2. I have evoked these topics, but I hope we could discuss more on:

    1) The limits of explicit or implicit social constructionism à la STS: it fails to cover a large spectrum of analysis, and also to address the required engagement of the researcher.

    2) The normative assumptions of some use of resilience: if there is anything like resilience, it shouldn’t be an “imperative”, otherwise it’s like forcing the victims to recover (come on, stop making a fuss, be resilient!). Reminds me of some uses of “reconciliation” for war crimes .

    3) What 3.11 should destroy: male dominancy is just an example, I guess there’re other points that could be considered. For example, to what extent the “genpatsu mura” has been destroyed? Should it be “destroyed”?

  3. Ryuma Shineha permalink

    I think Scott’s talk on disaster STS is important. I think it’s good to discuss about his suggested six axis.

  4. Jen Schneider permalink

    I would be interested in brainstorming more about the possibilities for and limitations of comparative work. We haven’t talked much about how disasters might be compared with each other (both within nuclear and beyond), though many of the papers do this work. Also, thinking about how to collaborate to do comparative work across cultures could be interesting.

  5. Sonja Schmid permalink

    I’d be interested in developing the idea of “risk knowledge commons” that Scott K proposed yesterday afternoon, both in terms of what this might be, what might constitute these regional knowledge infrastructures, and also how we might think about the politics of the commons.

  6. Nicolas Sternsdorff permalink

    I echo previous comments to spend more time teasing out what comparative work means in the case of disasters. This could be done in conjunction with Scott Knowles’s paper and his seven points of analysis.

  7. Three themes resonated with me: not new, but reinforced by the set of presentations:
    a. Distributed cognition: addressing the problem of nuclear power, energy production, potential risk requires a range of disciplines: physics, engineering, public policy, but also the softer sciences of economics, sociology, anthropology, and the humanities, ethics, law, history.
    b. Lack of measurement: we are trying to understand interacting forces, but do not have adequate metrics to assess the current state or to measure the rate of change.
    c. Communication across disciplines: different disciplines are addressing the same problem from different perspectives, using different languages. Essential to increasing our understanding of the threats and potential benefits of nuclear power is a systematic effort to define common terms, translate basic concepts into common language.

  8. Scott Knowles permalink

    Agreed on the discussion of comparative methodology.

    ALSO, we discovered a difference in methods yesterday that’s worth discussing. It seems that many papers work from a perspective that moves towards suggesting official advice and/or professional interventions–and/or the expenditure of public money on infrastructure or other technologies. I’m thinking particularly of thevery interesting Comfort/Okada paper. Other scholars seem to be hesitant to such a stance for DSTS. One of our colleagues (nuclear engineer) explicitly asked that we consider offering policy advice, and the room was silent.

    Is this the aim of our work–if so, how should that develop if not, why not? In other words, what is the right place in the world for DSTS scholarship and activity?

  9. Daniel Aldrich permalink

    I’d like to hear more about methodology and approaches for comparing disasters across time and space. I’m also in favor of an open discussion of the use of normative emphases and policy approaches in our works – clearly we have a range of approaches across our researchers.

  10. I agree that comparison has come to the fore as a theme, but I want to connect this with what Sharon has helped raise with respect to refusals, silences, and absences as a critical matter for us to reflect upon more deeply. This relates to both that which we study and how we relate to each other. We need to further discuss what our respective aims and projected outcomes would be from such comparison. Who might stand to gain from whom and how?

    • Scott Knowles permalink

      Thanks very much for this thought Lisa. I think in this regard it’s useful if we are explicit about whether our work takes the viewpoint of victims, organizations, nations, scientists/engineers–if/when our descriptions and analyses, and our interventions are focused on making change, we should be clear about change for whom.

  11. 1. One issue concerns how a feature of “a disaster” becomes dominant. 3-11, the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami and similar broadly encompassing frameworks have frequently become “Fukushima” with a much narrower focus. As a policy issue, such a shift implies a groundwork for investing more resources in one component of a multiple disaster (a common issue for earthquakes, even without the nuclear dimension) than another, i.e., that policy makers rob Peter (tsunami relief) to pay Paul (nuclear clean-up).

    2. Determining appropriate prior cases from which to develop disaster preparation and response plans. This means recognizing distinctive circumstances of the social, economic and geographic environment in which the event(s) take place. Yesterday this was most clearly expressed in Urban v. Rural, and regions that pre-event were already in economic and demographic trouble.

    3. The role of experts: how/why they communicate as they do; who is expert on what, etc. is necessarily a key long-term focus for our effort.

    4. Implicit in our discussions is a range of stakeholders from local to regional to national, with the possibility of an international level. This recognition of multiple levels of stakeholders is the result of trends over the 19th and 20th centuries: expansion of the size and reach of economic organizations, the increased reach of states; the limiting of the geographic scope marginal resources and their incorporation into single states/companies; technological advances that permit increased number of uses of the same land (sub-surface resource extraction is a clear example). All of these trends make for stakeholders who have a less direct (absentee?) relationship to the actual site of an event and complicates sorting out which needs deserve priority.

    From this perspective, a question we have not addressed is that of determining who/what organization/institution counts as a stakeholder, and the nature of their rights and responsibilities vis-a-vis an event.

    5. A critical issue, touched upon at several points is that of how to incorporate experience with events: history, memory and the role they can play in planning for events, as well as recovering from them. Many points in our discussion alluded to the fact that communities “forgot” risks (in part because of development of statistical models of risk that seemed more “competent” and “scientific” than human memory (when in fact they have these statistical tools have their own severe limitations). HISTORY MATTERS although it is often ignored. What mechanisms of human habit encourage this (and its counterpart, selective memory)? What procedures can be developed that will meaningfully counteract it? (This is a question that parallels people understanding their role in complex systems, a la uninformed workers causing the accident at Tokaimura.)

    • One implication of my 4th point is that we need to envision, as we plan, possible new stakeholders and the ways their presence might complicate scope and nature of a disaster, as well as methods and patterns of recovery.

  12. Charlotte permalink

    I was very interested by the diversity of the theoretical background mobilized by the participants of the workshop. One of the thing that I was saw emerging was the possibility of defining our own vocabularies and concepts starting from the the different concepts that emerged yesterday (commons knowledge, world) I also feel the need to define on an approach that take together the three phases of the disasters together, etc.) I was also thinking that the first researches in disasters studies, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were put together to address the risk of nuclear attack on the US. That make me think about the how we could reflect on these first researches.

  13. One of the papers for today’s sessions (sorry that I forget which one!) mentioned that 3.11 is one of the first major disasters to occur in a place where the extensive use of social (or second?) media was present. Many of the papers deal with questions of knowledge, information, and communication. This avenue strikes me as very intriguing to pursue new insights, though also fraught with danger. I would like to talk more about distributed data in the context of social power and agency. In what ways do different forms of knowledge give power to new groups? In what ways do they reinforce existing social orders?

  14. Yasuhito Abe permalink

    I am wondering if we could discuss “big data” in relation to knowledge production practices following the disaster. Driven by the development of the information infrastructures (the Internet and social media etc), large amount of data have been generated by a wide variety of people following March 11. The question then is how STS scholars should deal with the big data produced following the disaster. How can the big data benefit STS scholarship? Do the big data de-authorize scientific authorities/expertise? Do the big data affect the ways in which we think about “trust”? How do the big data affect our comparative analysis of disasters?

  15. Joonhong Ahn permalink

    1. The theme of the workshop is “disaster,” and yet the discussions yesterday headed toward casual, non-expert chatting about nuclear issues. We should focus more on “disaster” itself. As pointed out, we need to set framework and scope of the project.

    2. Resilience emerged as one of the keywords, but we did not discuss it in detail. Actually, this is very important, in a sense also in engineering field, resilience has emerged in the past several years as important concept for safety of complex systems. What we skirted around was discussions on the motivation of our efforts, what we would like to accomplish through this project, what would be possible deliverables, etc.

    3. Again, resilience as a main key concept, try to integrate engineering in the picture, and develop foresight for preparing for future disasters.

    4. More analytical works are necessary to understand what are common and different among various disasters in the past, to classify those, and to hopefully develop some recommendations for future disasters.

    • Scott Knowles permalink

      Agreed that we need explicit conversation about “resilience.”

      • Kohta Juraku permalink

        I think that reflexive discussion on the scope, implications, definitions and patterns of the word “disaster” itself is critically important as Joonhong suggested, also.

  16. Tamiyo Kondo permalink

    My comment for this is same as answer for thrid question.
    How knowledge formed by academic research can contribute to ongoing long-term recovery planning process after March 11?
    I think it difficult to do this for disaster mitigation, preparedness and response phases,
    but I think it possible for recovery phase which will continue at least 10 years.

  17. Cathryn Carson permalink

    This is partly a response to Joonhong, partly a more general reflection. Maybe a first step to get clarity on “disaster” is to ask the disaster STS folks (Kim, Scott F., Scott K.?) to talk through what makes them make common cause. It isn’t obvious to me that they’re pushing in the same direction, or that they have the same sense of “disaster.” I get the utility for coalition-building and funding, but I don’t yet understand how it works.

    If we had a conversation around that, we could then explore whether the rest of us are using the term in any coherent or theorized way, or just picking it up because it’s convenient. Or for other reasons, like the intellectual or physical frisson of talking about something extreme and dangerous.

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