Filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash and biologist Timothy A. Mousseau have orbited one another in the courses of their fieldwork in and around Fukushima, Japan, since 2011. One traces human stories; the other tracks signs of biological change in wildlife. Both had investigated questions about the exposure of bodies to radiation. Their paths crossed at a workshop entitled “Exposure and Effect: Measuring Safety, Environment, and Life in Asia” at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where they discussed the meanings of their research and work. Questions as to what new insights would be drawn about the difficulties, challenges, and futures of conducting work in the field known as “Fukushima” motivated the organization of their sustained conversation in the face-to-face format known in Japanese as taidan. This dialogue lays bare the problems characterized in the genba, raised in this special issue, when generators of knowledge seem incapable of meeting on common ground to address uncertainties about pollutants, radioactive or otherwise, despite treading over the same figurative or physical ground. This essay introduces and analyzes key extracts from the transcribed taidan, now archived as an oral history document as part of the Teach311.org project. The taidan ultimately serves as a clarifying example of the need to excavate the relationships among places, radioisotopes, and research that have come to define human relationships. The issues raised by the taidan enhance our familiarity with how studies of radiation effects in the “wild” involve unique learning processes typified by the very experts conducting fieldwork who have had to confront their own assumptions about the characterization of a place in relation to radiation exposure. The independent works of Mousseau and Ash, documenting a shared historical moment within a world humbled by renewed awareness of ionizing radiation, juxtapose the creation of expert and lay knowledge systems. Their work at the intersections of science, technology, and society show as many commonalities as they do distinctions. For Asian studies cases that feature unavoidable deliberations about trustworthy scientific knowledge, a science and technology studies (STS) lens can help contextualize technological mediation, methodologies involving nonadult humans who do not necessarily have authorial voices, and the challenges of negotiating contested objectivities.
Research Article|May 01 2018
Orbiting in the Field: A Taidan (Conversation) on Ecology and Filmmaking in Tohoku, Japan
positions (2018) 26 (2): 213-241.
Ian Thomas Ash, Timothy A. Mousseau, Lisa Onaga; Orbiting in the Field: A Taidan (Conversation) on Ecology and Filmmaking in Tohoku, Japan. positions 1 May 2018; 26 (2): 213–241. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4351542
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