9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Nuclear Power Building I, 2E4

Protest, justice, citizenship and environmental rehabilitation: the worth of death and the value of life

This paper compares the different ways the State activates policies of environmental rehabilitation in Portugal and France, and how local populations and ancient uranium workers contest or normalize the notions of hazard, public and personal health, death and risk. The main objective is to analyse the political work that is done to normalize permanent hazardous situations and the interference of local histories, memories, bodies and communities on the technical work applied on the normalisation process.
The paper focus on the protest actions engaged, in Portugal, by an association of ancient uranium miners and workers as a way to disrupt the frontiers of responsibility laid down by the State throughout the application of a program of rehabilitation of degraded mining areas. While the Portuguese State seeks to reduce the issue to an environmental one, highlighting the importance of rehabilitation to public health, the miners and workers struggle to expand it so that it can embrace other aspects, such as social and labour rights of former workers. Although central in the action repertoire of the workers, the politicization of death aims above all to uphold a moral debt of the State towards people. This is a moral debt that should not materialize itself in a symbolic assuming of guilt by the State but in real form as financial reparation.
By contrast, in Limoges, France, death and suffering on the closed uranium mines are normalized in the post-production process, and the exploiting company, AREVA, is engaged in a strategy of self-presentation of responsibility, engaged environmental rehabilitation and competent manager of radioactive waste. The contestation arises from the local environmental movements, through judicial processes, and focus on environmental deficit, the predation of natural resources and the legacy of nuclear waste. The discussion is structured around the overall notion of France as a nuclear power and the entailing costs and necessary victims that arise in the process.
The paper concludes by a discussion of democratic risk governance and the role of memory, resentment, repair, death and generational legacy on the constant engagement of public constituencies in the production of civic epistemologies and citizenship.