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Dr Louise Elstow

Former Research Student

Thesis Title

Getting the Measure of It: Radiation Knowledge Construction in Japan since 2011

Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in March 2011, in which environments, foods and bodies were contaminated with radioactive isotopes, many devices have made knowledge about radiation.

This thesis overlays concepts such as assemblages, qualculations, comparisons, and syncretism to provide a multidimensional, layered way of thinking about scientific knowledge making in contamination emergencies. Based on ethnographic data from Japan gathered between 2018 and 2022, including two periods of fieldwork in Japan in 2018 and 2019, I demonstrate multiple heterogeneous socio-material entities come together to construct radiation knowledge in different places, times and for different purposes. I contend that human and nonhuman actors are active in the process of radiation knowledge creation, performing different roles and functions in the assemblage. I argue these actors influence what else is in assemblages, where and when they operate, and what happens when they come into contact with alternative assemblages operating in the same spaces and times. However, not all actors have equal agency in this. I highlight tensions between knowledge- making communities – the questions they seek to answer, the resources they have access to, and the extent to which they seek to align their practices with others. I also assert that nonhuman actors, such as emergency plans, legislation, standards, thresholds and guidance documents simultaneously stabilise and constrain knowledge making opportunities. Stabilisation and constraint occur across multiple dimensions – spatially (where knowledge is made), temporally (when it is made) and practically (how it is made).

As well as contributing to social science debates about the sociality and materiality of collective knowledge making practices in general, my findings are directly relevant to professionals charged with planning for and responding to contamination events. It suggests a new way of thinking about knowledge making in emergencies which acknowledges the multiplicity of knowledge making assemblages, their opportunities and limits in different places and times, and how they operate alongside other knowledges and practices.


Supervised By

Prof. Claire Waterton

Dr. Allison Hui

Dr. Joe Deville

Research Grants

I am currently the recipient of an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) studentship.

2018 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Summer Programme Fellow.

In 2013 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship allowing me to travel to the United States of America, and Canada, in order to investigate the learning opportunities around community resilience in urban areas.


BSc German and Economics with International Business and Subsidiary Swedish (First Class, University of Surrey, 2005)

MSc Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management (Merit, Leicester University, 2008)

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