Award-winning book follows mothers’ determination after Japan nuclear disaster

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Lisa M Shirota, (808) 956-7352
Communications Director, Social Sciences, Dean's Office
Posted: Feb 21, 2019

Aya H. Kimura
Aya H. Kimura
Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists
Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists

Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima by Aya H. Kimura, associate professor in the Sociology Department in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has received the 2019 Rachel Carson Book Prize. The book was recognized for its contributions in the field of Science and Technology Studies, overall scholarly quality, and social and political relevance.

Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists explores the plight of Japan citizens in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. Concerned about the safety of the nation’s food supplies, and skeptical of the government’s assurances of safety, these individuals, particularly mothers, began collecting scientific data on radiation-contaminated foods.

Rather than praise, the work of these citizen scientists was dismissed as the work of irrational women who lacked scientific knowledge. Characterized as rumormongers, they faced many social sanctions and challenges as they worked to secure the health and safety of their communities in a nation where their actions defied traditional gender roles.

In awarding Kimura with the Rachel Carson Book Prize, the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) recognized the vast reach of her work. “It is a thorough portrait of the realities of life in post-Fukushima Japan, as well as a thoughtful, insightful reflection upon the challenges faced by the nation’s citizen scientists,” stated 4S.

Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists deals with questions on the relationships between gender, technoscience and activism,” said Kimura. “But it is also borne out of pressing questions that my family members and friends were grappling with in their daily lives and sometimes asked me in emails and Skype calls as the Fukushima nuclear accident unfolded. ‘The authorities said the situation was under control but what should we do?’”

Kimura continues, “Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists describes how citizens had to resort to voluntary monitoring. These individuals, predominantly women, were harshly critiqued as irrational and over-reacting when they expressed concerns, and those concerns were refashioned as the cause for the health impacts of the nuclear accident. The book also tells a difficult story of how citizen monitoring can be both empowering and restricting.”

The Carson Prize is awarded annually by the Society for Social Studies of Science for a book in Science and Technology Studies with distinctive social and political relevance.  It is named after writer, scientist and ecologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964), author of numerous books including The Edge of the Sea (1955) and Help Your Child to Wonder (1956). In Silent Spring (1962), Carson challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the U.S- government, advocating for a fundamental shift in our approach to the environment. Carson testified before Congress in 1963 on the misuse of pesticides and her work continues to shape environmental studies and policies that champion a healthy ecosystem.

Kimura has published on food politics and gender issues. Her books include Hidden Hunger: Gender and Politics of Smarter Foods (Cornell University Press 2013, Fred Buttel Outstanding Scholarly Award of the Rural Sociological Society) and co-editor of Food and Power: Visioning Food Democracy in Hawai‘i with Krisna Suryanata (UH Press, 2016).  She is also co-author of the forthcoming book, Science by the People: Participation, Power, and the Politics of Environmental Knowledge with Abby Kinchy (Rutgers University Press). She has a PhD in Sociology/Rural Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and MA in Environmental Studies at Yale University. Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima is published by Duke University Press.

The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) is an international, nonprofit association founded in 1975 that fosters interdisciplinary and engaged scholarship in social studies of science, technology, and medicine (a field often referred to as STS). Comprising researchers and practitioners, the field of STS includes Science and Technology Studies; Science, Technology, and Society; and comparable domains of research, teaching, and practice in many languages.

The Department of Sociology (SOC) in the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences studies society, social interaction, social organization, and the consequences of these processes by combining scientific and humanistic perspectives to examine a range of topics, including marriage and family patterns, race and ethnic relations, demography, social change, class structure, value systems, conflict, deviant behavior, and the people and institutions of societies. The department prepares students to succeed as academics, researchers, service providers, leaders and good citizens in their own societies. Using Hawai‘i’s natural resources of location, people, and relationships, Sociology generates new knowledge about the island lifestyle and its true multi-ethnic mix of people.

Marked by leadership, excellence and innovation, the College of Social Sciences (CSS) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa provides students with a culturally diverse experience that transforms them into bold, engaged global citizens who affect change, break down barriers, touch lives and succeed in a multi-cultural context. Its student-centered environment id dedicated to providing students with a vibrant academic climate that affords exciting, intense interaction among students and faculty as they address fundamental questions about human behavior. Featuring outstanding scholarship through internships, active and service learning approaches to teaching, and an international focus particularly in the Asia Pacific region, it prepares students to become leaders in public and private enterprises throughout Hawai‘i and Asia.