Dr. Maxime Polleri is a MacArthur Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. As an anthropologist of science and technology, his work examines the governance of risk in the aftermath of technological disasters implying environmental contamination.
His current research focuses on Japanese public and state responses to the release of radioactive contamination after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Based on 14 months of fieldwork in Japan, the research examines the management of residual radioactivity in a normalized state of emergency, where official adjusted the acceptable radiological exposure threshold for the public to 20 times higher than it had been before the disaster. The research illuminates the diverse strategies for information delivery about radiation risks, as well as how state and public responses both clashed and merged together to govern something as controversial as post-disaster recovery. Dr. Polleri argues that the dominant practices of governance now coalesced toward a specific politics of revitalization of Fukushima in order to manage the vulnerabilities of an ecologically and economically insecure Japan. This politics emphasized a restoration of irradiated areas through state-sponsored decontamination and monitoring, a gradual repatriation of former evacuees to Fukushima, and the promotion of a resilient mindset in the face of adversity – often at the expense of other narratives of recovery.
More precisely, the research contends that the management of radiation hazard after Fukushima has involved an important reorganization of state expertise, which moves beyond traditional forms of risk communication and institutional experts. These include techniques of governance that attempt to normalize people’s relationships with nuclear matter as an everyday concern. They also include decentralized strategies that aim to empower victims of the disaster with technoscientific practices of radiation monitoring, delegating radiation protection from the state to the citizens.
What is at stake in Fukushima is the increased normalization of citizen relationships with residual toxicity, which are transformed into everyday concerns, rather than represented as exceptional events. This is not only done by state experts, but equally through civil society, in particular with citizen science networks, where people track and monitor radioactive contamination by themselves. By highlighting major shifts in the structure for expertise and the regulation of life amidst toxic exposure, his research highlights how the management of contamination is evolving in an era where the nefarious impacts of modernization represent permanent marks on the planet.
Part of his work has already been published in Social Studies of Science, American Ethnologist, Anthropology Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Somatosphere. His research was supported by the Japan Foundation and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.