The quality of social decision-making processes

The main points made in this chapter can be summarized as follows.

  • 1 The Sunshine project was the first large-scale, long-term national project for renewable energy development including wind turbines, but Japan’s wind turbine development withdrew from national projects without any public explanation for doing so. As a result, a myth has persisted: that overall, without any evidence, it is infeasible for Japan to make power generation using wind turbines of any kind because of unfavorable wind conditions.
  • 2 This myth prevented most domestic wind turbine manufacturers from carrying out development of the technology and accumulating technical know-how, which in turn reinforced the fixed trajectory of diffusion of this technology in Japan via imports. The myth was broken first by relevant outsiders who were external to the closed circle of governmental, industrial, and academic sectors engaging in renewable energy promotion (including the Sunshine project) and were non-experts in wind turbine development, design, or production.
  • 3 Another type of relevant outsider was heterogeneous agents within a small town whose intended purpose for the technology - symbolic use of wind turbines in a post-disaster local context outside the market - resulted in the unintended consequence of materializing the production of electricity from the symbolic wind turbine that had been domestically manufactured. In this case, relevant outsiders played the role of breaking the fixed trajectory of technology dominated by imported wind turbines. For an unintended consequence of such a purposive social action, the production of electricity by domestically produced wind turbine resulted.
  • 4 Analysis of the independent cases used in this chapter suggests that relevant outsiders could play a key role in altering the fixed trajectory of a technology. This can be particularly decisive at a time when a large-scale national project by a closed circle of experts and agents yields little meaningful results, wherein an assessment of the results is not made public. In such a situation, relevant outsiders’ input into technology selection could be a candidate for public participation for changing the fixed trajectory that could potentially lead to structural disaster.

Thus, the path-dependent development of renewable energy technology' and diffusion via imports was coupled with a closed decision-making process conducted by insiders alone. The participation of relevant outsiders’ in technology' selection processes could disentangle this coupling and prevent the adoption of a single fixed trajectory, as their status as outsiders enables them to be relatively free from shared belief and network effects that typically serve to maintain the fixed trajectory adhered to precedents. Based on these points, it is possible to tentatively formulate the following three criteria by which the quality of social decision-making processes can be evaluated in terms of identifying alternatives.

Since the fixed trajectory could turn into structural disaster when the precedents are erroneous, the criteria could become a preliminary device to detect the potential for structural disaster.

  • 1 Whether or not it is possible to escape from network effects and belief effects in the initial phase of social decision-making.
  • 2 Whether or not it is possible for relevant outsiders to take part in both the technology selection and technology diffusion stages.
  • 3 Whether or not it is possible to make public the reasons for failure of large- scale national projects and to avoid inadequate accounts that are colored by myths from agents concerned.

The role of relevant outsiders formulated here, however, cannot be applied broadly to every situation because, as mentioned above, the demarcation between relevant and choreographed outsiders can vary depending on issues and situation- specific details. Relevant outsiders in one instance, for example, could become irrelevant by playing the role of a mediator between different stakeholders or “petit experts” (experts of nothing but impression management) to build a consensus in order to give official backing to a fixed trajectory.38 In such cases, choreographed outsiders could rightly meet the needs of bureaucratic decisionmaking of the governmental sector by providing a given policy option with legitimacy. When legitimacy in such a context is achieved under the name of the will of people in the citizen sector and the stake of the governmental sector sticking to a given policy is procured in this way, this type of legitimation could lead to a techno-mass democracy, or decision-making on technology by particular stakeholders via a legitimate “social” consensus in participatory appearance. If the distinction between democracy and mass-democracy thus defined is blurred by the stereotypical dichotomy of technocratic versus participatory way of decisionmaking, then structural disaster could emerge in a path-dependent manner. This was manifested in the role played by Cafe Scientifique in the Tohoku district before the Fukushima nuclear accident, which is used as an example of institutionalized secrecy in Chapter 1. Democracy and mass-democracy are similar in their mode of representation in the public sphere but the former reflects the interests of people in the citizen sector, while the latter never reflects this interest. From the perspective of structural disaster, it should be remembered here that techno-mass democracy, as epitomized by Cafe Scientifique before the Fukushima accident, paved the way to the accident.

Therefore, discriminating between relevant outsiders expected to play a role for democracy and choreographed ones designed to play a role for mass-democracy will be one of the most important tasks for further sociological studies on structural disaster and beyond.

7 To understand or not to understand?

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