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Vernacular Epistemologies of Risk: The Crisis in Fukushima


How do we understand the impact and aftermath of natural disasters? As part of our series of events on Crisis Narratives, we are delighted to welcome Celine-Marie Pascale, professor of Sociology at American University on Wednesday, October 14 at 1:00 p.m. at 228 Battelle-Tompkins.

On March 11, 2011 a major earthquake hit the coast of Japan. With a magnitude of 9.0 and an epicenter off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, this was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since the advent of modern recording methods in 1900. More than 15,000 people died, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and millions of households were left without electricity or water. 

The earthquake and tsunami events, commonly known in Japan as “3/11,” caused dramatic transformations to the natural, built, and social environments. But as professor Pascale discusses in this project, there were also epistemic changes arising from this disaster that are less obvious but perhaps no less profound in their consequences. Her study is based on a textual analysis of all articles published between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013 about the Fukushima disaster in four of the most prominent media outlets in the United States: the Washington Post and The New York Times and two nationally prominent blogs, Politico and The Huffington Post. This analysis will illustrate how systematic media practices minimized the presence of health risks, contributed to misinformation, and exacerbated uncertainties.  The discourses of risk in media provided a very particular vernacular epistemology for risk assessment, both now and in the future.  Through dominant reporting practices, media did not just shape perceptions of the Fukushima disaster, they provided heuristics—a vernacular epistemology— through which the importance and risk of nuclear radiation is to be understood.

To learn more about the earthquake and Pascale's research, visit our Wordpress site.

To view more photos from the event, visit our Wordpress site.

Crisis in Fukushima

Crisis in Fukushima

Crisis in Fukushima

Crisis in Fukushima