Broader sociological implications of “structure”

The following points have been made in this chapter to prepare a new sociological

framework for investigating structural disaster.

  • 1 To break the self-reinforcing loop of risk society arguments via a critical examination of prior sociological discourse about uncertainty and risk, two requirements are presented: exploration of type-two underdetermination separately from type-one; categorizing agents along the principle of symmetry in the analysis of type-two underdetermination and the allocation of responsibility.
  • 2 Structural disaster is the key to incorporating the above two requirements into the exploration of extreme events, detecting precursors of similar events, and mapping preventive measures.
  • 3 Through the concept of structural disaster, the nature and reach of institutionalized secrecy can be illustrated with reference to the utilization of the SPEEDI, the report on HLW disposal by the SCJ, and governmental decontamination policy in the post-Fukushima situation.
  • 4 The applicability of the concept of structural disaster to an independent case of a hidden but serious naval accident in pre-war Japan suggests the coupling of structural integration with functional disintegration. This case shows that failures of the science-technology-society interface could trigger uncontrollable and irreversible effects in the current context. To obtain a systematic mapping of different extreme events, a disaster matrix is devised as a heuristic device.

Ultimately, a broader sociological implication of structural disaster would include the locus of “structure” in two different contexts. First, since the concept of structure can apply to individual social action as well as the social system as a whole, there are two ways to explain its emergence: one is through the aggregation of relevant individual social action, and the other is through the embodiment mechanism of a social system’s particular characteristics. Though the two ways may appear contrastive, both have commonalities with respect to bracketing cultural essentialism and explanation by endogenous culture as the cause, such as in the narrative of “made in Japan” in the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Report (NAIIC 2012a: 9). Both ways attempt to explain the process through which structural disaster occurs without appealing to any holistic explanation (for example, culture).

Second, if we regard structure as penetrating different dimensions throughout the disaster matrix described in this chapter, it follows that institutionalized secrecy and structural integration coupled with functional disintegration can affect individual social action through social systems in a fractal manner. For example, institutionalized secrecy can hide human errors in an individual social action, hide organizational errors, or authorize the hiding of multiple items within the social system as a whole. Similarly, impression management in an individual social action could function to hide human error in a broad sense (Downer 2014) or to crowd out the recognition of threats (Steinberg 2000) when they are too serious. By extension, to combine various agents and stakeholders in an investigation of structural disaster could also involve institutionalized secrecy if such a combination functions to blur the due social responsibility of a particular institutional design for incurring and/or amplifying disasters.23

Thus, an explanation of structural disaster implies keeping a proper distance from holistic explanations and requires a scale-free application of the concept from social action through social system with an appropriate variety of interpretations of the term “structural disaster.” Scale-free here means that the arguments within the following chapters are seen as valid to analyze structural disaster at any level of description, ranging from individual social action to social system. There could be, then, multiple snapshots of structural disaster so that the common sociological basis on which the integrated portrayal of the disaster is depicted (see Chapter 2). A focus on accurate comparisons of similar structures - ranging from individual social actions to a social system, and of the different functions of similar structures throughout - could provide a significant clue to preventing collective irresponsibility when extreme events occur.24

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