Negotiating safety: Re-establishing scientific baselines for regulation in Japan

Susanne Brucksch (German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo)
Florentine Koppenborg (FU Berlin)
Tine Walravens (Ghent University)
Anthropology and Sociology
Bloco 1, Piso 1, Sala 1.10
Start time:
1 September, 2017 at 14:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

The panel elaborates how the concept of safety is negotiated among various societal actors referring to the distinction of science-based vs. value-based risk perception, and which efforts authorities conduct to reestablish public trust in the field of food safety, public health and energy security.

Long abstract:

In modern societies like Japan, the organisation of daily life with a growing urban population relies in manifold ways on complex infrastructures and production systems. Based on highly specialised societal sub-systems, these infrastructures require well-structured regulation and management. More precisely, this inevitably resulted in an environment where power, agency and control is distributed among various authorities with varying scientific expertise in order to balance values, trust and legitimacy within democratic societies. One feature related to these three dimensions is safety referring to the human right of bodily integrity, which can be found in realms such as food systems, public health or protection against nuclear radiation. Inspired by the US idea of "safety first", the concept has been actively promoted in Japan through the anzen dai-ichi movement since 1915 for enhancing workplace and traffic security (Horiguchi 2011). Over decades, the term anzen - referring more to the avoidance of objective and calculable risk - became coupled with the term anshin - reassurance from subjective risks. Calling Japan a mainly anshin society in risk perception, Kamisato (2016) points to a great deal of people seeking reassurance from governmental authorities. This tendency can be observed to a certain extent in public health and food safety as well. However, public trust in security standards eroded after several scandals such as BSE and medical errors but, particularly, after the Fukushima accident. Against this backdrop, the three panel contributions tackle the question how the concept of safety is negotiated and redefined among various societal actors referring to the distinction of science-based versus value-based perception of risks. Moreover, the papers elaborate on which efforts the authorities conduct to re-establish safety standards and public confidence in the field of food safety, public health and energy security. At first, Walravens draws attention to Japan's institutional efforts after food-related incidents by presenting findings from a qualitative content analysis. Afterwards, Koppenborg elaborates on the ongoing struggle over defining nuclear safety after the Fukushima accident. Hereafter, Brucksch reflects the overwhelming safety focus in device approval of PMDA that has difficulties in balancing patient needs, medical risks and public expectation.