- Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima by Aya Hirata Kimura
This powerful and thought-provoking book is a sober account of the complicated relations between the Japanese government and its citizens in the aftermath of the nuclear accident of March 2011 and the role that scientism, gender, and neoliberalism play in them. These complicated relations were (and still are being) played out through negotiations over food safety in which people with little scientific education measure radioactivity, that is, engage in "citizen science." Aya Hirata Kimura provides a detailed picture of the individual and collective civil enterprises—mostly led by mothers—to detect and disseminate information about food contaminated with radioactive particles in the context of governmental insistence on food safety and public ostracism of expressions of radiation concerns. Science, both as a privileged authoritative idiom and as a set of practices to manufacture privileged knowledge, is used strategically by all parties, albeit with considerably different consequences for each. Gender stereotypes, divisions of reproductive responsibilities, and emotional labor are used strategically. The author ventures to decipher the sociopolitical implications of civilians taking measurements of radiation into their own hands. Kimura's thesis has many levels, but central to the book is her argument that citizen science is a form of "infra politics" in James C. Scott's idiom or "informal everyday life politics" in Tessa Morris-Suzuki's idiom—an inexplicit form of political activism.1
Disasters have long been identified in social science literature as "revealers" of inequalities lurking beneath social orders and the uneven distribution of vulnerability they produce.2 The nuclear accident at the Daiichi power plant in Fukushima was a striking reminder of the inequalities involved in exposing citizens in economically less privileged peripheral agricultural areas to the risks inherent in proximity to nuclear power plants that provide electricity for their faraway urban compatriots. However, people distant from the nuclear accident are not excused from dealing with radioactive contamination of air, soil, and food. Thus, beyond important observations [End Page 390] about the uneven distribution of vulnerability, the nuclear accident had the potential to reveal the futility of the myth of "safe" nuclear power with its consequences for all Japanese citizens in the particularly precarious circumstances of continuous seismic instability. Demonstrations before the Japanese Diet in 2012 caused the closure of 48 commercial nuclear power plants,3 yet the push for policy change advocated by antinuclear activists failed to materialize. Why, how, and by which mechanisms are civilian protests constrained? Why science and not politics? These questions resonate throughout the book.
The author engaged closely following the disaster with citizen scientists: women (and a few men) who measured radiation to protect their families from contaminated food. Many extended their services to other concerned civilians and formed nonprofit organizations, which Kimura calls CRMOs (Citizen Radiation Measuring Organizations). Skillfully woven into the book are content analysis of blogs and Twitter communication as well as media articles and statements by government officials and radiation experts, creating a broad context for understanding the ordeals of citizen scientists.
The first part of the book describes the food policing (rather than politics that would work to expose the power relations behind radioactive contamination) that developed after the triple disaster. Dominant in its rhetoric was the dubbing of radiation concerns as fūhyōhigai—baseless, harmful rumors. Underlying such conceptualization of anxieties as damage were economic concerns. Soon after the disasters, the government initiated a campaign that encouraged consumers to "eat to support" farmers and manufacturers in the affected areas. Fūhyōhigai targeted women and mothers in particular, capitalizing on their stereotypes as irrational and unscientifi c; it worked to suppress explicit resistance by ostracizing worried mothers as hōshanō mama—"mothers with radiation brains," hence the book's title. The same stereotypes of women as emotional and empathetic were put to work when women were enlisted in educational campaigns to enlighten others about proper ways to...