Sociology of Science Society of Japan – 6th Annual Meeting

Last weekend, I attended the 6th annual meeting of the Sociology of Science Society of Japan, held at Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo. Because I had another commitment on the first day and was not able to take part in the entire meeting unfortunately, I did not present my work this time but instead had an honour of chairing a session on medical sociology / sociology of health and illness on the second day.

So, here I give my observation on the four talks presented in the session, rather than reporting their details as I assume some of them are still work-in-progress and unpublished. All the talks were intellectually stimulating, and I would like to thank the speakers, Prof. Hiroshi Yamanaka (Osaka Univ.), Ms. Sawako Shinomiya (independent), Ms. Natsuko Nojima (JSPS), and Prof. Masahiro Sato (Saitama Univ.). Based on the abstracts, I categorized their talks in two sub-groups; first, the talks on ‘the models of disease and disability’ and second, those on ‘social representations of a disease.’ Although I am not sure if that was the right move on my side, as the talks made clear that these two topics are closely related, they presented some important issues in undertaking studies of medical sociology.

The talks by Prof. Yamanaka and Ms. Shinomiya both explored the ways in which medical and social understandings of disease/disability co-exist in our society: they do not just ‘co-exist’ but together legitimize and hence enable implementation of public health/social welfare policies for the disease/disability concerned. In the cases examined in the talks, social understanding serves to problematize the circumstances of the diseased or the disabled, whereas medical one endorses the solutions proposed. And their work is necessarily locally specific. An important question here is how guidelines of international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, ‘interact with,’ rather than ‘inform,’ such localized work of public health/social welfare policies. To answer this question, a historical analysis and/or an international comparison may be needed.

The talks of Ms. Nojima and Prof. Sato then examined media representations of a disease, while the former took a sociological approach and the latter a historical one. Studies of representation often focuses on the questions of ‘how’ – how a disease is presented – and ‘by whom’ – who was considered to have legitimate knowledge to present it. But the both talks indicated that the question of ‘for what’ is equally important, that is, what social function the representation in mass media of a disease seldom known to the public is supposed to serve. It may explain away a social problem as ‘a natural phenomenon,’ call for state intervention to solve it, or open up a social space where new actors can legitimately enter. To explore this question of ‘for what’, the representation of a disease has to be situated in its specific context – specific in terms of both geographical and temporal.

I really enjoyed the talks and learned a lot from them. Once again, I thank the speakers for their stimulating talk.

Another thing I found particularly interesting was that there seems growing interest in actor-network theory and the work of Bruno Latour in Japan. A group of young sociologists are now working to (re-)evaluate the significance of Latour in sociology. I am keen to know more about their work and see if they would finally make actor-network theory a sociological theory.


– 日本語(Japanese ver.) –







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