The “Structural Disaster” of the Science-TechnologySociety Interface

The “structural disaster” of the science-technology-society interface is the concept developed to give a sociological account of the repeated occurrence of failures of a similar type [2]. In particular, it is developed to clarify a situation where novel and undesirable events happen but there is no single agent to blame and no place to allocate responsibility for the events and to prescribe remedies. The reason for denominating this failure as the failure of the science-technology-society interface rather than that of science, or of technology, or of society is worthy of attention to understand the development of my argument. For example, if nuclear physics is completely successful in understanding a chain reaction, technology such as nuclear engineering could fail in controlling the reaction as in the case of Chernobyl.[1] Or if nuclear engineering is almost completely successful in containing radioactive materials within reactors, social decision-making could fail as in the case of Three Mile Island (TMI).[2] Or if society is completely successful in setting goals for the development of renewable energy technologies, science and/or technology could fail as in the case of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).[3]

In a word, the success or failure of science, of technology, and of society cannot be overlapped automatically [9, 10]. In particular, there seems to be something missing in-between, which has unique characteristics of its own. The concept of “structural disaster” is intended to explore this state. What is in-between could be institutional arrangements, organizational routines, tacit interpretations of a formal code of ethics, invisible customs, or the networks of interests of different organizations. The “structural disaster” consists of one or more of the following elements [11]:

1. Adherence to erroneous precedents causes problems to be carried over and reproduced.

2. The complexity of a system under consideration and the interdependence of its units aggravate problems.

3. The invisible norms of informal groups essentially hollow out formal norms.

4. Quick fixes for problems at hand lead to further such fixes for temporary counter measures.

5. Secrecy develops across different sectors and blurs the locus of agents responsible for the problems to be addressed.

This chapter focuses on, among other things, the interdependence of heterogeneous agents, which come into play in the science-technology-society interface and give rise to secrecy in a specific social condition. This chapter will make clear the interdependence by tracing it back to the hidden prewar accident, which will give us an important clue to the understanding of the Fukushima Daiichi accident from the perspective of “structural disaster” as defined above. To understand the social context of this hidden prewar accident, it is necessary to move away from the current social condition of the post-Fukushima situation to the prewar wartime mobilization of science and technology, within which the clarification of this hidden accident can be properly pursued. After the clarification, we will move back to the current situation surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi accident, to present the sociological implications of the hidden accident for the Fukushima Daiichi accident and for potential future extreme events.

  • [1] For a sociological investigation into the relationships between the Chernobyl and Wind scale incident, see [3]. For a different view on the relationships, see [4].
  • [2] For a pioneering sociological investigation into TMI, see [5]. Also see [6, 7].
  • [3] On a sociological account of an unanticipated social consequence of OTEC, see [8].
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