Current Institutional Affiliation
Managing Editor and Research Associate, Gastronomica Journal, University of California / Santa Cruz

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Santa Cruz
Converting Loss to Advantage: Science and the Reinvention of Failure in Japan

This project proposes to conduct an ethnographic study of the role of science and technology in Japan during what is popularly perceived as a period of national decline. While Japan achieved rapid economic success in the postwar period due to innovations in science and technology, recent science and engineering failures in Japan have prompted public debates about the continuing efficacy of technology for Japanese prosperity, as well as the threats that technology poses to national public health. My research thus examines a particular response to this debate in the form of an emergent Japanese scientific practice called "failure science." Failure science advocates dissect science, engineering, and business failures in order to determine and classify their causes. Failure science practitioners are motivated by the conviction that a detailed understanding of the causes of error will allow people to learn from, communicate, and face their mistakes. I argue that "failure science" is thus both a nationalist exercise, in which advocates support risky - yet potentially lucrative - science and technology projects by embracing the possibilities of failure. Yet I also contend that "failure science" is a form of critique in which the risk-averse Japanese subject must be convinced not only to support Japanese science projects for the sake of national prosperity, but also to change their own culture into one that invites risk and uncertainty in the hope of a reward that will renew Japanese economic and cultural prosperity.