Discourses of Risk, Citizen Activism, and the Waste Facility Siting Controversy

Author Info
Mei-Fang Fan
Department of Public Administration & Institute of Public Policy

Regulation and risk management in Taiwan are dominated by technocracy. Although the Environmental Impact Assessment Law was approved in 1994 to regulate development projects and to standardize the criteria for its implementation, the lay public does not have much opportunity to participate in the process. Those residents who oppose siting waste facilities in their communities tend to be stigmatized as promoting self-interest and as being irrational and ignorant. This paper explores multiple risk discourses, judgments, and struggles over the distribution of risk in the context of disputes about a waste facility siting in Hsinchu. The research methods adopted are documentary analysis and in-depth interviews, supplemented by focus groups and numerous informal conversations. The analysis examines how local residents perceive the potential risks of the waste facility and local reasoning. It shows different perspectives on the distribution of risk among actors, including scientific rationality, a utilitarian view, a limited citizen participation in decision-making, and the lack of recognition of local knowledge. It also examines citizen activism and its emerging transformation. The paper argues for the recognition of local contextual knowledge and the need for institutional change towards becoming more transparent, accountable, and open to a variety of perspectives to rebuild public confidence.

Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, Number 5 (October 2007), 43-70.